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VLADIMIR MAYAKOVSKY 
POEMS 



ORIENT LONGMANS 


Fir si published 1953 
New impression 1959 


ORIENT LONGMANS LIMITED 
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CONTENTS 


7 A Great Poet of the Soviet Epoch 

25 Morning 

26 What About You? 

27 Great Big Hell of a City 

28 Listen! 

29 You 

30 An Ode to Judges 

32 IJIy Dear! In Lieu of a i.etter 

34 Our March 

35 Clouds Up to Tricks 

36 Kindness to Horses 

38 An Amazing Adventure 

44 Order No. 2 to the Army of Arts 

47 Atlantic Ocean 

51 Contagious Cargo 

57 A Skyscraper Dissected 

60 Brooklyn Bridge 

64 Sergei Esenin 

69 To Comrade Nette — Steamer and Man 
72 Don’t Your Shoulder Blades Itch? 

75 Paper Horrors 

80 A Chat in Odessa Harbour 

82 Tastes May Differ 

83 A Letter from Paris to Comrade Kostrov 
88 My Soviet Passport 

91 Cloud in Pants 
111 I Love 
119 It 

175 Vladimir Ilyich Lenin 
251 Fine! 

261 Aloud and Straight 
269 Notes 




A GREAT POET OF THE SOVIET EPOCH 

In 1917, at the time of the Great October Socialist 
Revolution, Vladimir Mayakovsky was twenty-four 
years old, but had already accumulated extensive and 
manifold social and literary experience. “My revolu- 
tion” — so he defined his attitude to the historic events 
in Russia and directly went to work at the Smolny. 
The building of the former Smolny institute, a boarding 
school for daughters of the nobility, now housed the 
headquarters of the October uprising guided by 
V. I. Lenin. Here throbbed the heart of revolutionary 
Russia, here, in the Smolny, her future destinies were 
being decided. 

The poet immediately found his place in the ranks 
of Lenin’s followers, applying all his poetical fervour 
to the inspired and inspiring everyday work of build- 
ing a new socialist society. The dream he had long 
cherished as a poet and revolutionary was coming true. 
“And he, the free man of whom I’m yelling — he’ll 
come, believe me, believe, he will,” Mayakovsky pro- 
phesied back in 1915 in his early poem War and Peace. 
In the revolution Mayakovsky’s forceful revolutionary 
oratory and soul-searching lyricism acquired full scope 
and he became the first poet of the Soviet era. The 
ideas of the revolution made Mayakovsky’s poetry what 
it was: an expression of Russia’s new national culture, 
in which her great classic heritage was developed in 
new forms. Mayakovsky’s work may be correctly under- 
stood as a manifestation of the Russian national spirit 
and national art, only in the light of the struggle for 
the humane and universally significant ideals of the 
revolution. 

A reader making his first acquaintance with Maya- 
kovsky’s poetry will naturally ask himself what kind ’of 
man the poet was, how he came to accomplish his 
great artistic mission. Let us, therefore, throw a cur- 
sory look at the main landmarks of his life and work. 

9f> 

Mayakovsky spent his childhood in the remote Geor- 
gian village of Baghdadi, renamed after the poet’s 
death into Mayakovsky. The village lies in a deep pic- 


7 



turesque valley surrounded by tall mountains protecting 
it from the cold winds. Mayakovsky’s father, a forest- 
er, drew his lineage from impoverished nobility, but 
snobbery was foreign to his nature and he was very 
good to the local peasemts. In this Russian, who spoke 
to them in their own Georgian (he knew other lan- 
guages of the Caucasus too;, they saw not a hostile 
agent of the tsar’s administration, but an exacting 
teacher and friend. 

In the simple work-a-day atmosphere of the family, 
the future poet enjoyed an uninhibited childhood, play- 
ing with the peasant boys from whom, incidentally, he 
picked up an excellent knowledge of Georgian. Later, 
when he went to school in Kutaisi, he felt an alien 
among the snobbish progeny of Russian officials and, 
contrarily, quite at home among the Georgian boys who 
became his dearest friends. This friendship manifested 
itself most markedly during the first Russian Revolution 
of 1905. Together with other revolutionary-minded 
pupils Mayakovsky hid in his desk and distributed rev- 
olutionary leaflets. 

In 1906 his father unexpectedly died of sepsis, hav- 
ing pricked his finger when filing documents in the 
forestry office. The family moved to Moscow where 
Vladimir’s elder sister was studying. “Russia was the 
dream of my life,” Mayakovsky later recalled. “Noth- 
ing ever had such a terrific pull on me.” Moscow be- 
came the starting-point of the future poet’s revolution- 
ary career. Here, in the gymnasium (secondary school), 
he joined the Social-Democratic Party. The next three 
years — 1907, 1908, 1909 — were packed with events that 
had a decisive influence on his spiritual make-up. 
Mayakovsky took part in many hazardous revolution- 
ary undertakings which more than once ended in his 
arrest. “Party”, “A^rest’^ “Third Arrest”, “Eleven 
Months in Butyrki” (in the Butyrsky prison Mayakov- 
sky was kept in solitary confinemfent; — so he entitled 
the chapters of his autobiography referring to that 
period. 

The impressions of childhood and adolescence, which 
are always vital in the development of an artistic per- 
sonality, became the foundation-stones of Mayakov- 
sky’s poetry. The fact that he was bom and bred among 


8 



the mountains, on the soil of revolutionary Caucasus, 
and that he became a convert to the ideas of the Com- 
munist Party in adolescence, had an all-important 
formative influence on his character and his talent. 

4 - 

Vague artistic inclinations (much more definite 
towards painting than poetry) became apparent in 
Mayakovsky when he was still at school, but were 
staved off by his passionate urge to participate in rev- 
olutionary work* Apparently it was in prison, in soli- 
tary cell No. 103, where, by his own confession, he 
“pounced upon belles-lettres” and “read all the latest”, 
that Mayakovsky arrived at the view that his vocation 
was to be the revolution's artist, “to make socialist art”. 
In the Moscow school of painting and sculpture which 
he entered upon release from prison, Mayakovsky got 
acquainted with artists and poets, a milieu that was 
quite new to him. Eventually, poetry prevailed over 
his interest in painting. He joined the futurists, the 
most extreme trend in Russian modernism which took 
shape during the crisis of bourgeois culture, in the 
period of preparation for the proletarian revolution. 
The futurists postulated the primate of form, declaring 
war on both classic and modern art, proclaiming them- 
selves in their manifesto to be the enemies of the “fat 
bourgeoisie”. However, while pursuing their quest for 
new forms, throwing the “old great off the steamship 
of modernity”, the futurists were far removed from 
any idea of class struggle. For Mayakovsky, however, 
the concept of a revolution in artistic form stemmed 
from his social revolutionism, viz., the new subject 
matter of socialist art demanded new formal means for 
its expression. The romantic notion of revolt against 
bourgeois culture and traditions preached by futurists 
had a definite attraction for Mayakovsky, and although 
the futurists had no intent of altering contemporary 
reality, their arrogant nihilism was in some ways 
emotionally akin" to the young poet’s revolutionary 
rebelliousness. They pished a certain role in Mayakov- 
sky’s quest for new form, but could not and did 
not become his spiritual guides. He followed his own 
path of a revolutionary poet who had nothing to do 


9 



with the futurists’ formalistic jugglery and their indif- 
ference to the issues of social life. 

Mayakovsky the innovator was called forth by the 
revolution, the expectation of which provided his inspi- 
ration. He first spoke out as a poetic apostle of the 
revolution in his poem Cloud in Pants written in 1915. 
Mayakovsky read it to Gorky, whom he visited at his 
Mustamaki country house near Petrograd. Gorky was 
delighted with Mayakovsky’s rebellious fervour, dis- 
cerning in this unusual, impetuous young man the traits 
of that poet whose advent he foretold in 1913: “Russia 
is in need of a great poet, a poet that must be both dem- 
ocratic and romantic, for we, Russians, are a young 
and democratic nation.” 

In manuscript, Cloud in Pants had a different title — 
Thirteenth Apostle y which was at once pathetic and 
ironical, elevating the image of the poet himself as an 
apostle of the revolution. Later Mayakovsky summed 
up the essence of this piece in four slogans: “ ‘Down 
with your love!’, ‘Down with your art!’, ‘Down with 
your system!’, ‘Down with your religion!’ are the four 
cries voiced in the four parts.” This pattern reveals the 
ideological message of the poem in which he challenged 
the whole structure of bourgeois society, the source of 
national evils and calamities and all the misfortunes 
of the hero himself. Its first part (Down with your 
love!) discloses the personal drama of the hero jilted 
by the woman he loves. “You know. I’m getting mar- 
ried,” she tells him coming to their rendezvous. What 
response could such words evoke in a man whose 
whole being was taut with anticipation of love? He 
addresses Maria with a question and reminder: 

Remember — 
you used to ask, 

“Jack London, 

money, 

love, 

passion — 
aren’t they real?” 

And I — all I knew 

was that you’re the Gioconda 

that somebody’s got to steal. 


10 



Who, then, are the poet’s true rivals? Those who 
“pay for women” — the bourgeois world, the power of 
money which cripples every human emotion. 

The hero regards Maria’s rejection not only as his 
own defeat in love, but as a declaration of war on him, 
the rebel, by the entire bourgeois society. And he ac- 
cepts the challenge, charging into attack, deriving 
strength from the awareness of his affinity with other 
people. The disinherited, poverty-stricken and labour- 
exhausted outcasts must be made to realise their moral 
superiority over the old bourgeois world: 

I know, the sun would fade out, almost, 
stunned with our souls’ Hellenic beauty. 


Thus the hero of the poem, whose beloved has been 
stolen, turns out to be not only an apostle of big, 
true love, but an apostle of struggle against a world 
founded on falsehood and exploitation of man by man. 
The main characters of the tragedy are not “he” and 
“she”, but society and the individual, whose humilia- 
tion is consecrated by the church and contemporary 
decadent art. Hence the urge to blast all outworn con- 
cepts, including religious and aesthetic ones. 

In the middle of 1915, assuming the half-pathetic, 
half -sarcastic posture of a poet-oracle “jeered at by 
the tribe of today”, Mayakovsky prophesied the com- 
ing of the revolution, in dating which he was mistaken 
only by a year. 

Crowned with the thorns of revolt, 
the year 1916 draws nigh. 

« 

Mayakovsky called the October Revolution “my rev- 
olution”, and the young Soviet country acquired in his 
person a master whom it could justly call “my poet”. 
Mayakovsky was not the only poet to welcome the rev- 
olution enthusiastically. Among the poets of the older 

f eneration there were Alexander Blok, who in The 
welve expressed the hopes and aspirations of the best 


11 



part of progressive Russian intelligentsia, and Demyan 
Bedny who produced the poem Land, Liberty and the 
Workers* Lot. Sergei Esenin was also wholeheartedly 
in favour of the revolution even though, in his own 
words, he accepted it “with a peasant’s bias”. 

In the years following the revolution Mayakovsky’s 
activities were extremely manifold. He was deeply con- 
vinced that “a poet of the revolution cannot confine 
himself to writing books”. Accordingly, he turned to 
the theatre and cinema, which attracted him as media 
of mass appeal, and wrote more than a dozen screen- 
plays. He also contributed to newspapers and maga- 
zines, and produced political posters — an invariable item 
of urban scenery in the first years after the revolution. 

During 1919-1920 Mayakovsky worked in the “Sa- 
tirical Windows of ROSTA” (Russian Telegraph 
Agency), writing captions to pictures — verse propa- 
ganda on the most urgent issues of the civil war and 
the life of the young Soviet republic. “The ROSTA 
windows were a fantastic affair,” wrote the poet, “a 
handful of artists serving, manually, a hundred-mil- 
lion-strong giant of a people.” 

Soviet Russia was entering a new period of her life. 
The civil war ended in victory. The war-wrecked eco- 
nomy had to be rebuilt from scratch. Mayakovsky’s 
work in ROSTA prepared him for embarking on a 
satirical campaign in the period of NEP (New Eco- 
nomic Polic)^, which allowed a certain freedom of 
private enterprise in economic rehabilitation. While 
his earlier satire was aimed against external enemies 
and “all sorts of Denikins”, now he levelled his fire at 
shortcomings within the country. The ideals of the 
October Revolution had to be defended from the 
onslaught of petty proprietors who fancied they had 
won the day. It was imperative to bolster the new 
generation’s faith in thq future presaged by Lenin in 
his last public speech: “JTOP Russia will become social- 
ist Russia.” 

During this period Mayakovsky wrote the love-poem 
It, which was evoked by the tragic end of his relation- 
ship with the woman he loved. As he says in his 
autobiography, however, he wrote It “about himself 
and aU”. 


12 



Just as in Cloud in Pants Mayakovsky had hurled 
his indignation at capitalism: “Down with your love!”, 
he now thundered at the philistines who raised their 
heads under NEP. But if in the earlier poem this slo- 
gan was followed by “Down with your system!” which 
he thought an essential condition for the triumph of 
true love, this time everything was radically changed. 
Now Mayakovsky saw his only hope in “our red- 
flagged system”, whose power, he believed, extended to 
the sphere of personal relationships: “Confiscate, abro- 
gate my suffering!” But here the obstacle was “slave- 
hood that ages had hammered into our souls”. The 
conflict between the old and the new in the poet’s soul 
is a source of much agony. At times the forces of 
the past seem unconquerable. The legacy of whole 
ages cannot be rooted out “at one go”. In this lies 
the tragedy and the emotional crisis of the hero 
of It, 

However, in the very process of writing the poem 
Mayakovsky sought and found the way out of his spiri- 
tual impasse by ridiculing and exorcising the remnants 
of the past in social life and in his own self, thus dis- 
covering new, optimistic prospects. 

The poem It is autobiographical throughout. Agree- 
ing with the woman he loved not to meet for a time, 
Mayakovsky withdrew into his study for a month and 
a half, refusing to see friends, and, “incarcerated in his 
nutshell of a room”, concentrated wholly on his poem, 
trying to find in it a solution to agonising problems in 
his personal life and life in general. On toishing the 
poem in February 1923, he came out of his voluntary 
confinement and with his usual fervour plunged once 
more into the turbulent life of a literary polemicist, 
“agitator, brazen-mouthed ring-leader”. Seven years 
later, on April 14, 1930, he shot himself in the same, 
“nutshell of a room” in Lubyansky Proyezd. The in- 
volved circumstances of his private life and the extreme- 
ly inauspicious atmosphere created around him by 
his literary ill-wirfiers, were further aggravated by the 
failure of the first production of his wonderful play 
The Bathhouse. “I’m quits with life, and no need to list 
mutual troubles, offences, hurts,” says the poet in his 
farewell letter. 


13 



From the poem It we may gather an idea of the part 
played by love in Mayakovsky’s life, in the “mutual 
troubles, offences, hurts”, which in his own words, there 
was no need to list. “Love is the heart of everything. 
If it stops working, all the rest dies off, becomes 
superfluous, unnecessary. . . . Love can’t be regimented 
by any sort of must or mustrit — only by free competi- 
tion with the rest of the world,” Mayakovsky wrote 
in a letter-diary which he kept for L. Brik while work- 
ing on It. The poem is concluded with an Application 
to. . . — an attempted escape into fantasy, a programme 
for the future. He paints his lofty ideal of creative 
love which asserts itself in “competition with the 
world”. Mayakovsky evolved an imagery of enormous 
expressive power, employing his favourite devices — 
hyperboles and materialised metaphors — to convey the 
immense force of emotion common to his contemporary 
— the new man, whose love is “a far sight grander 
than Onegin’s love”. 

In It the poet carries on a dialogue with himself. The 
old individualistic contraposition of love to the world 
had already been discarded, but the new concept of 
love as a form of competition with the world had not 
yet become fully shaped in his mind. And this explains 
his spiritual crisis. However, in his Application to. . . 
Mayakovsky did finally discover a way out, producing 
a pattern of love-ethics capable of linking that most 
personal of emotions with the aims of society. The idea 
of the creative power of love later found expression 
in the famous stanza: 


To love 

is to break 

from insomnia-torn sheets, 
with jealousy of Copernicus 

swallowing saliva, 

him, 

not the husband 

of Mrs. Sugar-and"sweets 

regarding 


as your 

most deadly rival. 


14 



One of the first Soviet poems dedicated to Lenin 
was Mayakovsky’s “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin”, written in 
1924, the year when the founder of the Soviet state 
died. Mayakovsky had begun planning a poem about 
Lenin long before. The government bulletin on the 
leader’s illness, posted up in the streets of Moscow in 
March 1923, made the poet respond with We Dont 
Believe^ a short poem full of love and anxiety. Maya- 
kovsky was present at the Congress of Soviets held on 
January 22, 1924, where Chairman Mikhail Kalinin 
announced that ’’yesterday at 6.50, a.m. died Comrade 
Lenin”. . . . The first shock of this terrible news was 
followed for Mayakc>vsky by a state of frightening 
depression with which he was able to cope only 
through his art, by putting in words the vastness of the 
common grief, and poetically recreating Lenin’s 
image. 

“Never have I wanted to be understood so much as 
in this poem. This, perhaps, is the most important piece 
of work I have ever done,” he said to his friends. In 
many respects, Mayakovsky’s poem remains unsur- 
passed, despite the fact that the artistic portraiture of 
Lenin has since been augmented by many remarkable 
works whose number is constantly growing. 

Mayakovsky’s work holds one very essential advan- 
tage which will carry weight forever. His enormous 
talent apart, Mayakovsky was a contemporary of Lenin 
and of the entire epoch which saw the establishment of 
the new socialist society. He painted from life. He 
was in the Smolny on the day of the October uprising, 
saw Lenin there, and heard him speaking on many oc- 
casions. His poem is not only the work of a master- 
poet, but a document, the testimony of a rank-and-file 
contemporary. Mayakovsky recreates the thoughts and 
feelings of one of those millions who followed Lenin, 
helped him to accomplish his historic task, shared his 
joys and sorrows, and now felt unutterably grief- 
stricken and bereaved. 

We are burying the earthliest of beinj^ 

of all that ever walked this earth oi ours. 



For all its expressiveness, this formula would be far 
too general, had not the poet posed the question “what 
has he done, where did he come from, this most humeui 
of all humans?” Replying to his own question in the 
first and second parts of the poem, he depicts Lenin’s 
life against the background of the history of the rev- 
olutionary movement. Compositionally speaking, this 
was fully justified from the standpoint of a poet-con- 
temporary portraying the leader’s image. Only so could 
he help the readers to rationalise, as it were, their 
grief, which in many was still in a primal state of un- 
conscious, elemental anguish — and gain a deeper men- 
tal grasp of their emotions, converting their sorrow into 
revolutionary energy. The portrayal of this energy of 
millions rallied round the memory of Lenin, an energy 
born of sorrow, was the life-asserting artistic task 
which Mayakovsky set himself in his poem. It was a 
work simultaneously epic and lyrical in nature. 


What a joy it is 

to be part of this union, 
even tears from the eyes 

to be shared en masse 


in this, 

the purest, 

most potent communion 
with that glorious feeling 

whose name is 

Class! 


Then comes the description of a street in Moscow 
during Lenin’s funeral. Mayakovsky gives an account 
to History, having imbibed with all his ;senses, “with 
all the billion poires his body holds”, every detail of 
the day which “wi^ll keep its tale of woe for* ever throb- 
bing”. The despair that seized the people at the news 
of Lenin’s deadi gives way to a demonstration of re- 
strained, profoimd emotion. The image of boundless 
silence permeates the entire picture. Silence in the 
streets, in broad daylight — the silence of millions which 
rang with the emotion of “child and adult wrung by 
grief’s insistence”. Silence and movement — slow, 


16 



speechless, and therefore immensely eloquent, palpable 
in its internal rhythm, directed by the slow music of 
the revolutionary funeral march: “J'arewell to you, 
comrade, who have passed from a noble life away”. 

The poet-contemporary brings out unforgettable 
details — symptoms, tokens of popular reverence and 
love, manifesting themselves in the absence of any 
outward expression of grief, in the magnificently dig- 
nified orderliness of this “all-human” sorrow. 

The frost, 

unheard-of, 

scorched one’s feet, 

yet days 

were spent 

in the tightening crush. 

Nobody 

even ventured to beat 

hands together to warm them — 

hush! 


Self-discipline and restraint in the expression of feel- 
ings symptomatise the strength of those who follow 
Lenin’s hearse, who will go on marching along his 
road. The procession across Red Square is epitomised 
in a remarkably dynamic, impetuous image of the surg- 
ing masses inspired by Lenin’s ideas: 


Like a giant banner 

the huge Red Square, 

millions of hands 

welded into its staff. 


soars 

with a mighty sweep 

into the air. 


Red Square comes to life symbolically in the swell- 
ing silk of an enormous banner, from every fold of 
which the living Lenin calls the world proletariat to 
rise in a holy war against the oppressors. 


2—570 


17 



Mayakovsky’s poem about Lenin is not a requiem, 
but a hymn to life. Reciting it to the most varied 
audiences — at factory clubs, Party meetings and 
student gatherings — the poet won many new friends 
and admirers, and this gave him the moral support 
which he so lacked in literary circles. The poem about 
Lenin, warmly acclaimed by the Party and reading 
public, became an event not only in the literary life 
of the country, but in the life of the people in general. 
With this poem, Mayakovsky could appeal for and find 
understanding and sympathy among working people 
in any of the world’s capitals, in the remotest corners 
of the planet. With this poem he could undertake the 
journey round the globe which he had long been plan- 
ning. 

An “envoy of poetry”, he travelled abroad, reciting 
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and other works, telling people 
about life in the Soviet Union and the great upsurge 
of Soviet culture. He visited Latvia, Poland, Czecho- 
slovakia, Germany, France, and, finally, the United 
States. His encounters with mass audiences in New 
York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and other Amer- 
ican cities were a triumph of his poetry and, actually, 
a revelation of the new Russia for his listeners. Maya- 
kovsky’s trips to the USA and France gave birth to his 
“American cycle” and his scries of poems about Paris. 

On arrival in New York, the city of skyscrapers, 
Mayakovsky paid tribute to the genius of American 
engineers (“Brooklyn Bridge”). But soon his admira- 
tion gave way to a sober awareness of those aspects 
of life which usually evade a visitor’s first glance — the 
seamy side of everyday existence, the refined forms 
of exploitation, which make up the essence of Ameri- 
can capitalism. The Soviet poet was insulted and out- 
raged by the debasement of human dignity in this 
money-mad world. Thus, one of the most tragic poems 
of the American cycle is devoted to a Negro-mother 
selling her body to “festering Mr. Smith” to save her 
starving family. 

Most typical of Mayakovsky’s style in this cycle is 
the poem Atlantic Ocean. 



Nearer and dearer 

you are to my heart. . . . 

. . .in breadth, 

in blood. 


in cause, 

in spirit 

my revolution’s elder brother. 


Mayakovsky endows the elemental forces of nature 
with human features. For him the ocean is a living 
being with the sturdy ways of a soldier or factory- 
hand: “Now with nose to the grindstone, now drunk as 
a lord”, terrible in rage and dreadful when drunk, but 
easily recovering its good humour and forgiving of- 
fences. This kind-hearted, wayward giant wants to be 
useful to men, dreams about irrigating parched deserts: 
“O to reach the Sahara — it isn’t so far-off!” 

Logically — after the image of the Atlantic — 
Mayakovsky took up the theme of Columbus. 


There’s one single thought 

that gladdens me now; 

that these same waves 

hugged Columbus as well, 
that tired drops of sweat 

from (Columbus’ brow 


into this same water 


fell. 


But the poem is also alive with the painful regret 
that today, in the age of the arrogant all-powerful dol- 
lar, “you’ve dwindled, Atlantic, proud in your youth, 
any scum can spit at your grey-whiskered visage”. The- 
pithy end-pun of another poem in the American cycle 
presents, as it were, the conclusion he arrived at in his 
transatlantic voyage, his “discovery of America”. 


You’re an ass, Columbus, 


As for me, 


yes, I mean it. 


if I were you. 


here’s what I’d do: 


19 



I would shut America 

and slightly clean it, 

then I would 

leopen it anew. 

The sharper the satirical pungency of the American 
cycle, the clearer and keener becomes his awareness of 
his own country’s historic mission: “I and my country, 
we throw the gauntlet to all of your drab United 
States.” 




Mayakovsky was the leader of the artistic movement 
known as LEF — the left front of arts. What he longed 
for was not to work alone, but in a team bound togeth- 
er by a single purpose and idea. And although the 
LEF movement was marred by aesthetic prejudices 
which left their imprint on Mayakovsky’s poetry too, 
still, without the support of friends who were enthu- 
siastic about his work and believed in him, Mayakovsky 
would have found it far more difficult to assert him- 
self in that vast artistic movement which began to take 
shape under the banner of revolutionary innovation. 
In those days Mayakovsky became the standard-bearer 
of a new and immensely potent trend in Soviet art, 
joined by such gifted poets as Nikolai Asseyev, Boris 
Pasternak, Semyon Kirsanov, Sergei Tretyakov, and 
attracting masters in other fields of art, among them 
Meyerhold, Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Dovzhenko and 
Shostakovich. Mayakovsky drew wide sections of the 
artistic youth into the work of creating Soviet patriotic 
art, infecting them with his own enthusiasm. The 
author of this preface himself was among those who 
experienced his beneficial influence. 

Meeting Mayakovsky, who invited me in 1927 to 
co-operate in his magazine as a critic and historian 
of Soviet literature, was an unforgettable event in my 
life, which determined the purport of all my subse- 
quent literary work. I shall never forget the first recital 
of Finel at Mayakovsky’s flat. Written for the tenth 
anniversary of the Revolution, it seemed to have ab- 
sorbed the entire historical experience of the people as 


20 



well as the life experience of the poet himself. It pre- 
sented, as it were, a sequel to the poem about Lenin, 
an artistic development of Lenin’s ideas about the 
socialist country. The rumour that Mayakovsky was 
engaged on a poem about tlie revolution set astir the 
motley literary world where, along with ardent admir- 
ers, he had a great many ill-wishers. Besides his close 
friends and associates he had invited a number of 
special guests to listen to his recital. I don’t know how 
so many people could have crowded into his tiny flat. 
The listeners sat on window-sills and stood packed in 
the hall, where hats and coats were piled on chairs 
almost up to the ceiling. Among those present were 
Anatoly Lunacharsky, Alexander Fadeyev, and many 
people I did not know, who must have met Mayakov-r 
sky during his public appearances and lecture tours, or 
had simply become his enthusiasts after reading his 
poetry. 

The debates following the recital were extremely 
noisy; the atmosphere was a miniature replica of what 
usually occurred at the Polytechnical Museum where 
Mayakovsky often recited his poems, involving the 
audience in heated discussions. The most clearly sym- 
pathetic response was that of Anatoly Lunacharsky who 
accepted the poem with wholehearted enthusiasm. “It 
is the October Revolution itself cast in bronze”, were 
the words in which the People’s Commissar of Educa- 
tion, a shrewd art critic, expressed his opinion of 
Mayakovsky’s new poem. 

Fine! relates how in the unimaginably hard condi- 
tions of the civil war, economic ruin and blockade the 
feeling of socialist patriotism developed in the people, 
how under the Party’s leadership, the “land of youth” 
paved its way to the triumph of socialism and the 
“fatherland-to-be”. 

Always hostile to any vairnishing of reality, 
Mayakovsky also set himself the task of showing what 
was “bad” in the life of the young Soviet society, and 
even contemplated writing a poem under that title. 

In his satire Mayakovsky waged a relentless day-to- 
day war against evils and shortcomings. The most 
obtrusive 2unong such evils was bureaucracy {Paper 
Horrors, etc.). The characters of Mayakovsky’s satiri- 


21 



cal gallery — Soviet philistines and bureaucrats — were 
admirably shown and chastised in his satirical dramas, 
^The Bathhouse and The Bedbug, which were restored 
to stage-life in the 1950s at the Moscow Satire Theatre 
and many other theatres throughout the country and 
abroad. 


On quite a number of occasions Mayakovsky depicted 
his own self in his poems, dramas and screenplays, giv- 
ing the hero his own name. And, of course, even when 
remaining behind the scenes, he, like any true poet 
drawing on the material of his own life, presented the 
kind of lyrical hero who leaves his hallmark on every- 
thing taking place “on stage”. 

In Aloud and Straight, his last work, which was to 
be a prelude to a big poem that remained unwritten, 
Mayakovsky declared: “I myself will speak of me and 
my time.” In this poem one cannot fail to see a number 
of features reflecting his own literary biography; the 
poet clearly defined his “place in the workers’ ranks”, 
he was together with those “who had come out to build 
and sweep in perpetual work-a-day fever”, those who 
fought for the cause of the Party, for the triumph of 
revolutionary ideas in Soviet literature. 

Aloud and Straight sums up the poet’s artistic expe- 
rience, the back-breaking toil of extracting “precious 
words from artesian human depths”. Mayakovsky re- 
views a parade of his “word-troops” always alerted for 
action. As hostile as ever towards the aesthetes and 
literary adversaries who refused to acknowledge that 
the revolutionary ardour of his poetry was the essence 
of his life, Mayakovsky defended his honour as a poet 
of the revolution: “The enemy of the colossus working 
class — he’s mine as well, inveterate und ancient.” 

The honour of a poet of the revolution. . . . What did 
it imply? It implied the poet’s ability to rally the people 
for heroic exploits. Poetry itself is an act of heroism. 
In Aloud and Straight Mayakovsky asserted this atti- 
tude towards contemporaries, comrades-in-arms and 
descendants, and the literary wrangles of the day ap- 
peared petty and insignificant. 


22 



We’re comrades all — 


so let us share our glory, 
one common monument 

let’s have 

to tell our story 


in socialism 


built in battle 


for all time. 


Giving himself entirely to the people, totally con- 
temptuous of his own fame (“the hell I care for mar- 
ble’s shiny sludge”) — such is Mayakovsky, the poet of 
the Revolution, wholly identifying his colossal person- 
ality with the cause of his country and people. 


Mayakovsky’s artistic programme is vast; it is a poet- 
innovator’s programme of world-discovery. He rallied 
legions of impassioned followers, poets who carried on 
his cause and developed his traditions in all the multi- 
national off-shoots of Soviet poetry. At the same time 
he broadened the poetic mainroads, so that many other 
poets with a different creative vision could go shoulder 
to shoulder with him, working for the common aim — 
the triumph of socialism. 

It is extremely difficult to translate Mayakovsky into 
foreign languages, but the impact of his imagery is 
powerful enough to break down linguistic barriers. 

In the careers of many poets in Europe and America 
a role of major importance was played by their trans- 
lations of Mayakovsky’s works. In France, excellent 
translations were made by Elsa Triolet; in Britain by 
Herbert Marshall (published recently in India and 
America); in Germany by Hugo Hupert. The Moscow 
foreign language magazine Soviet Literature has print- 
ed a series of translations from Mayakovsky by the 
best Soviet workers in the field. 

In 1960 Progre'ss Publishers put out a book of 
Mayakovsky’s selected poetry rendered into English 
by Dorian Rottenberg. In 1967 the same translator 
produced the first complete English version of Vladi- 
mir Ilyich Lenin, which has just come out in a third 


23 



edition. This book, too, will be a new and, we hope, 
welcome gift to admirers of Mayakovsky’s poetry. 

Mayakovsky’s influence on world poetry is enor- 
mous. According to Pablo Neruda, his “power, tender- 
ness and wrath remain unparalleled as models of 
poetic accomplishment”. Mayakovsky helps progressive 
poets to denounce false idols, to seek new revolutionary 
pathways for the development of their national cul- 
ture. This is well reflected in the words of the French 
poet Jean Chabrault. “In medieval days the trip from 
Marseilles to Paris was made by ox-cart. Today it 
takes 50 minutes by air. And yet in medieval times we 
had Francois Villon. If we survey the best poetry of 
our own day, it scarcely appears to have scored any 
such miracles of progress. 

“Only when I read Mayakovsky I felt that now our 
hearts, our poetry can at long last dispense with the 
old ox-cart. I think he is still half-a-century ahead of 
us all.” 

While dedicating “all his resonant power of a poet” 
to the fight for a better future for all mankind, 
Mayakovsky also marked a new stage in the develop- 
ment of Russi£ui poetry, and a big step forward in 
world art in general. He glorified “the joy of life, the 
buoyancy of the hardest of marches — the march into 
communism”. 

It’s hardships 

that really give taste to our life. 

This song, then, 

will be a song 

of our worries, 

triumphs 

and everyday strife. 

Mayakovsky’s entire Work is just such a song which 
shall sound forever, calling men to create, to work, to 
perform new feats in the name of communism. 


VICTOR PERTSOV, Ph. D. 



MORNING 


The sullen rain 
cast a glance 
askance. 

Beyond the still 
clear grille — 

the iron reasoning of wires strung overhead — 
a featherbed. 

And on it 

rested lightly 

the legs of rising .stars. 

But as 

the streetlamps — tsars 
in crowns of gas — 
began to die, 

they made more painful for the eye 
the petty wars 

of the bouquet of boulevard whores. 

And horrid, 
the lurid 
pecking laughter 
that jokes leave after 
arose 

from the yellow roses’ 
poisoned rows 
in a zig-zag. 

But at the back 
of all the wrack- 
ing horror 
and the squalor 
the eye rejoiced, at last; 
the slave of crosses 
suff eringly-placidly- indiff er ent, 
the coffins 
of the brothels 
full of riff-raff 

were flung into one flaming vase by the 
dawning East. 


1912 



WHA7 ABOUT YOU? 


I splashed some colours from a tumbler 
and smeared the drab world with emotion. 

I charted on a dish of jelly 

the jutting cheekbones of the ocean. 

Upon the scales of a tin salmon 
I read the calls of lips yet mute. 

And you, 

could you have played a nocturne 
with just a drainpipe for a flute.'* 

1913 



GREAT BIG HELL OF A CITY 

Windows split the city’s great hell 
into tiny hel lets— vamps with lamps. 

The cars, red devils, exploded their yells 
right in your ear, rearing on their rumps. 

And there, under the signboard with herrings from Kerch 
an old man, knocked down, stooping to search 
for his specs, sobbed aloud when a tram with a lurch 
whipped out its eyeballs in the twilight splurge. 

In the gaps between skyscrapers, full of blazing ore. 
where the steel of trains came clattering by, 
an aeroplane fell with a final roar 
into the fluid oozing from the sun’s hurt eye. 

Only then, crumpling the blanket of lights. 

Night loved itself out, lewd and drunk, 

and beyond the street-suns, the sorriest of sights, 

sank the flabby moon, unwanted old junk. 


191 .? 



LISTEN! 


Now, listen! 

Surely, if the stars aic lit 
there’s somebody who longs for them, 
somebody who wants them to shine a bit, 
somebody who calls it, that wee speck 

of spittle, a gem? 

And overridden 
by blizzards of midday dust, 
tears in to God, 
afraid that it’s too late, 
and sobbing, 

kisses the hand outthrust, 
swears 

that he can’t, simply can’t bear a starless 

fate: 

There must be a star, there must! 

. . .Then goes about anxious, 
though tranquil seeming, 
whispering to somebody, 

“You’re better? 

Not afraid? 

All right?” 

Now listen, 

it must be for somebody stars arc set gleaming, 

somebody who longs 

that over the rooftops 

one star at least should come alight? 


1913 



YOU 


You, wallowing through orgy after orgy, 
owning a bathroom and warm, snug toilet! 

How dare you read about awards of St. Georgi' 
from newspaper columns with your blinkers oily? 

Do you realise, multitudinous nonentities 
thinking how better to fill your gob, 
that perhaps just now Petrov the lieutenant 
had both his legs ripped off by a bomb? 

Imagine if he, brought along for slaughter, 
suddenly saw, with his blood out-draining, 
you, with your mouths still dribbling soda-water 
and vodka, lasciviously crooning Severyanin”^! 

To give up my life for the likes of you, 
lovers of woman-flesh, dinners and cars? 

I’d rather go and serve pineapple juice 
to the wholes in Moscow’s bars. 


1915 



AN ODE TO JUDGES 

Convicts row their galley along 
over the sea in a sweltering crew 
covering the chain-clang with a snarling song 
about their home — Peru. 

About Peru, the flower of the planet 
full of dances, birds and love, 
where blossoms crown the green pomegranate 
and baobabs reach to the sky above. 

Bananas! Pineapples! Joy galore! 

Wine in sealed buttles shining through. . . . 

But then, God knows where from and what for, 
judges overran poor Peru. 

They came along and imposed their bans 
on birds, dances and Peruvians’ sweethearts; 
the judges’ eyes glinted like old tin cans 
picked up by pavement sweepers. 

A peacock painted orange and blue 
was caught by their eye, as strict as Lent; 
a moment, and off through its native Peru 
with his tail bleached white, the peacock went. 


It’s said in the prairies there once had been 
wee little birds — colibri they’re called. 

Well, the judges caught them and shaved them 

clean, 


down, feathers and all. 


In none of the valleys today will you find 
live volcanoes, those wheezy croakers; 
the judges choked them by putting up signs: 
“VALLEY FOR NON-SMOKERS”. 


Even my poems, by the law’s letter 
are banned in Peru. What for, do you think? 
The judges, you see, declared them “no better 
than alcoholic drink”. 


30 



Shaking the equator, chain-gangs trudge. . . . 
Poor people-less, birdless Peru! 

Only, scowling under the penal code, a judge 
survives, hearty and well-to-do. 

Those galleys, — things could scarcely be worse 
I pity Peruvians! don’t you? 

Judges are a bane for dances and birds, 
for me, for you, for Peru. 

1915 



LILY^ DEAR! IN LIEU OF A LEFl'ER 


I'hc room's a chapter of Kruchonikh's'' Inferno. 
Air 

gnawed out by tobacco smoke. 

Remember — 
at the window, 
for the first time, 
burning, 

with tender frenzy your arms I'd stroke.^ 

Now you’re sitting there, 
heart in armour; 
a day, 

and perhaps, 

I’ll be driven out. 

To the bleary hall: 

let’s dress: be calmer, 

crazy heart, don’t hammer so loud! 

I’ll rush out, raving, 

hurl my body into the street, 

slashed by despair from foot to brow. 

Don’t, 
don’t do it, 
darling, 
sweet! 

Better say good-bye right now. 

Anyway, 

my love’s a crippling weight 
to hang on you 
wherever you flee. 

Let me sob it out 

in a last complaint, 

the bitterness of my misery. 

A bull tired out by a day of sweat 
can plunge into water, 
get cooled and rested. 

For me 

there’s no sea but your love, 
and yet 

from that even tears can’t wrest me a respite. 

If a weary elephant wants some calm, 
lordly, he’ll lounge on the sun-baked sand. 

I’ve 


32 



only your love 
for sun and balm, 

yet 1 can’t even guess who’ll be fondling your hand. 
If a poet were so tormented 
he might 

barter his love for cash and fame. 

For me 

the world holds no other delight 

than the ring and glitter of your dear name. 

No rope will be noosed, 
no river leapt in, 

nor will bullet or poison take my life. 

No power over me, 
your glance excepting, 
has the blade of any knife. 

Tomorrow you’ll forget 
it was I who crowned you, 

I 

who seared out a flowering soul. 

The pages of my books will be vortexed 
around you 

by a vain existence’s carnival whirl. 

Could my words, 

dry leaves that they are but, 

detain you 

with throbbing heart? 

Ah, 

let the last of my tenderness carpet 
your footfall as you depart! 

1916 


t-«70 



OUR MARCH 


Beat the squares with the tramp of rebels! 
Higher, ranges of haughty heads! 

We’ll wash the world with a second deluge, 
Now’s the hour whose coming it dreads. 

Too slow, the wagon of years. 

The oxen of days — too glum. 

Our god is the god of speed, 

Our heart — our battle-drum. 

Is there gold diviner than ours?' 

What wasp of a bullet us can sting? 

Songs are our weapons, our power of powers, 
Our gold — our voices; just hear us sing! 

Meadow, lie green on the earth! 

With silk our days for us line! 

Rainbow, give colour and girth 
To the fleet-foot steeds of time. 

The heavens grudge us their starry glamour. 
B«ih! Without it our songs can thrive. 

Hey there, Ursus Major, clamour 
For us to be taken to heaven alive! 

Sing, of delight drink deep. 

Drain spring by cups, not by thimbles. 

Heart, step up your beat! 

Our breasts be the brass of cymbals! 


1917 



CLOUDS UP ro TRICKS 


High 

in the sky 

sailed clouds. 

Just four of them — 

none of your crowds. 

From the first to the third 

they looked men, 

while the fourth 

was a camel. 

Then, 

when they were well adrift, 
they were joined 

on the way 

by a fifth, 

from which, 

absolutely irrelevant, 
ran elephant 

after elephant. 

Till— 

perhaps a sixth 

came and gave them a scare — 

the clouds 

all vanished 

into thin air. 

And after them, 

champing the clouds into chaff, 

galloped the sun, 

a yellow giraffe. 


1917-1918 



KINDNESS TO HORSES 

Hoofs plod 
seeming to sing. 

Grab. 

Rib. 

Grub. 

Rob. 

Ice-shod, 
wind a-swing, 
the street skidded. 

On the roadway a cob 
toppled, 

and immediately, 
loafer after loafer, 
sweeping the Kuznetsky^ 
with trousers bell-bottomous, 
came mobbing. 

Laughter rang over and over, 

“Horse flopped! 

Boo, hippopotamus!” 

The Kuznetsky guffawed. 

Only I 

didn’t mix my voice in the bestiality. 

I came up, glimpsed in the horse’s eye: 
the street, up-turned, 
swam in all its reality. 

I came up and saw 
huge drop after drop 
roll down the muzzle, 
hide in the growth. . . . 

And an animal anguish 
I couldn’t stop 
spilled out of me, rippling, 
and flooded us both. 

“Now, don’t, please, horsie! 

You know what remorse is? 

They’re human, 

but why do you suppose you’re worse? 

Pet, 

we’re all of us a little bit horses, 
each of us in his own way’s a horse.” 
Perhaps she didn’t need a nurse, old naggie. 


36 



perhaps even laughed at my words 
— too trite! — 

but the horse made an effort, 

heaved, 

up-dragging, 

neighed, and went on, 

all right. 

Tail a-swishing, 
great big baby, 
she came light-hearted, 
back to her stall, 

and she felt a colt — just two years, maybe, — 
and life worth living 
despite it all. 

1918 



AN AMAZING ADVENrURE 
OF VLADIMIR MAYAKOVSKY 

at Pushkino, Akulov Hill, 
Rumyantsev s dacha, 

27 versts from Moscow 
by Yaroslavl railway. 

The sunset blazed like sixty suns. 

July was under way. 

The heat was dense, 
the heat was tense, 
upon that summer’s day. 

The slope near Pushkino swelled up 

into Akulov Hill, 

while at the foot 

a village stood, 

roofs like a warped-up frill. 

Behind the village 
was a hole; 

by evening, sure though slow, 
into that hole 
the sun would roll, 
to sleep, for all I know. 

And then, 
next morning, 
crimson-clad, 
the sun would rise 
and shine, 

till finally it made me mad — 
the same each blasted time! 

Till once 

so crazy I became 

that all turned pale with fright. 

“Get down, you loafer!” 
to the sun 

I yelled with all my might. 

“Soft job, sun,” I went oh to shout, 

“this coming up to roast us, 
while I must sit, 
year in, year out, 

and draw these blooming posters!” 
“Look here,” I cried, “you Goldy-Head, 


38 



it’s time you changed your ways. 
Why not step in for tea, instead 
of rise, and set, and blaze?” 

My lucky stars! 

What have I done! 

Corona, beams and all, 
itself, 

with giant strides 
the sun 

is coming at my call. 

I try to cover up my fear, 
retreating lobster- wise; 
it’s coming, 
it’s already near, 

I see its white-hot eyes. 

Through door and window, 

chink 

and crack 

it crammed into the room. 

Then stopped 

to get its hot breath back, 

and blimey, did it boom! 

“I’m changing my itin’rary 
the first time since creation. 

Now, poet, 

out with jam and tea, 

else why this invitation?” 

Myself scarce fit 
to match two words, 
half -barmy with the heat, 

I somehow nodded 
kettle wards: 

“Come on, orb, 
take a seat!” 

That hollering won’t come to good. 
My impudence be dashed! 

Thought I 

and sat 

as best I could 

upon the bench, abashed. 

But strange to say, 
with every ray 
I felt the stiffness ease. 


39 



“Look here,” I cried, “you Goldy-Head, 
it’s time you clian,^ed your ways. 

Why not step in foi tea, instead 
of rise, and set, and blaze?” 

An Amazing Adventure 





and cramped formality gave way 
to frankness by degrees. 

I spoke of this 

and spoke of that, 

about the beastly ROSTA^ 

“There, there,'" he said, 

“don't sulk, my lad, 
there’s things worse than a poster. 
You s’pose it’s easier to shine 
all day up there? 

Just try. 

But since the job’s been earmarked 
mine, 

my motto’s 
do or die!” 

This way till dark we chatted on, 
till former night, precisely. 

Huh, 

dark indeed! 

All shyness gone, 

we got along quite nicely. 

And pretty soon right chummily 
I thump him on the shoulder, 
and he hits back, 

“Why, you and me, 
that’s two, so let’s be bolder! 

Come, poet, up! 

Let’s sing and shine, 
however dull the earth is. 

I’ll pour the sunshine that is mine, 
and you — 
your own, 
in verses!” 

The walls bf gloom, 
the jails of night 
our doubld salvo crushed, 
and helter-skelter, 
verse and light 
in jolly tumult rushed. 

The sun gets tired 

and says good night 

to sleep away his cares, 

then I blaze forth with all my might. 


42 



and day once more upflares. 

Shine up on high, 

shine down on earth, 

till life’s own source runs dry — 

shine on — 

for all your blooming worth, 
so say 
both sun 
and 1! 

1920 



ORDER No. 2 70 7 HE ARMY OF AR7S 

This is to you, 
well-fed baritones, 
from Adam 
to the present day 

shaking the dives called theatres with the groans 
of Romeo and Juliet or some such child’s play. 

To you, 

maitres painters 

fattening like ponies, 

guzzling and guffawing salt of the earth, 

secluded in your studios, 

forever spawning 

llowers and girl flesh for all you are worth. 

To you, 

fig-leaf-camouflaged mystics, 

foreheads dug over with furrows sublime, 

futuristic, 

imagistic, 

acmeistic, 

stuck tight in the cobwebs of rhyme. 

To you, 

who abandoned smooth haircuts for matted, 
slick shoes for bast clogs a-la-russki, 
proletcultists^ 
sewing your patches 

on the faded frock-coat of Alexander Pushkin. 

To you, 
dancing 

or playing the tune, 

now openly betraying, 

now sinning in secret, 

picturing the future as an ppportune 

academic salary for every nitwit! 

I say to you, 

I, 

whether genius or not. 


44 



working in ROSTA, 
abandoning trifles; 
quit your rot 
before you’re debunked 
with the butts of rifles! 

Quit it, 

forget 

and spit 

on rhymes, 

arias, 

roses, 

hearts 

and all other suchlike shit 
out of the arsenals of the arts. 

Whoever cares 

that “Ah, poor creature, 

how he loved, how his heart did bleed!” 

Master-craftsmen, 

not long-haired preachers, 

that is what we need. 

Hark! 

Locomotives groan, 
draughts 

through their floors and windows blow; 
“Give us coal from the Don, 
mechanics, 
fitters 

for the depot!” 


On every river, from source to mouth, 
with holes in their sides, river-boats too 
lie idle, dismally howling out: 

“Give us oil from Baku!” 

While we kill time, debating 
the innermost essence of life, 

“Give us new forms, weVe waiting!” 
everything seems to cry. 


45 



We’re nobody’s fools 

till your lips come apart 

to stare, expectant, like cows chewing cud 

Comrades, 

wake up, 

give us new ait 

to haul the Republic out of the mud! 

1921 



ATLANTIC OCEAN 


Spanish stone 

rose in cliff and wall 
dazzling white, 

jagged as saw-teeth. 

Till twelve 


the steamer 

stood swallowing coal 


and drinking 

its fill 


of water. 

Then it swung round 

its iron-clad snout 


and 

exactly 

at one 

weighed its anchors 

and wheezing 

pulled out. 

Europe shrank to a pin 

and was gone. 

Great mountains of water 


run past me, 

thundering 


Enormous as years, 

at the ship they pound. 

Birds fly over me. 

Fish swim under me. 


Water 

lies 

all around. 


For weeks, 

heaving 

its athletic chest, 
now nose to the grindstone, 

now drunk as a lord, 

the Atlantic Ocean, 

never at rest. 


perpetually 

sighed or roared. 
*‘Oh, to lap the Sahara! 


47 



It isn’t so far-oflf. . . . 

A funny old trinket 
this ship on the blue! 
Carry or sink it — 
what shall I do? 

If I leave them dry — 
in the sun they fry. 

No good, these men, 
too small to feed on. 

O.K . — bierij 

let them speed on.” 

There’s nothing 

like waves 


to thrill and stir one. 


To some 

they bring childhood, 

to some — 


a loved voice. 


I, though. 


see banners 


There it starts- 


once more unfurling. 


the commotion — 


Then again 


go to it, boys! 


all’s quiet 


no doubts, 


and the hubbub’s through; 


no excitement. 


But suddenly — 


just nice and warm. 


how. 


from the depths 


if I only knew — 


arises 


the sea revkom? 


And the militant spray — 

like water-guerillas — 


go clambering up 

from the ocean’s bed, 

hurtling skyward, 

then downward spilling. 


48 



tearing 

the crowns 

of froth 

into sliieds. 

Then again 

the waters 

fuse into one 

commanded to boil 

by somebody’s power. 

And from under the clouds 

a wave dashes down 

pouring orders and slogans 

in a ceaseless shower 

And the billows swear 

to the sea CEO^ 

not to down 

their battle arms 

till the end. 

Now they’ve won 

and throughout the equator — 


droplet Soviets 

their limitless power 

extend. 

The last little rallies 

of quietening waves 

keep debating 

something 

in lofty style, 

and now the ocean, 

washed clean and shaved, 

foi a time relaxes 

with a peaceable smile. 

I look through the railings: 

on with it, boys! 

Under the gangway 

hanging 

like a latticed bridge, 

the waves’ T.*U. local 

its wisdom employs 


on issues 


on which 


ocean-destinies hinge. 


4-570 


49 



And under the water 

in business-like quiet 

grows a coral palace 

with spire and gable 
weaving its wickerwork 

to make things more bright 
for the hard-working whale, 

his wife and baby. 

There now — 

the moonbeams 

their carpet spread 

as if on dry land — 

just step down, 

go ahead! 

Not for enemies, though; 

the Atlantic’s eye, 

watchful as ever, 

looks up at the sky. 

Chilly and still, 

all varnished with moonshine, 

or groaning 

and tossing 

when old wounds smart, 

the longer and closer 

I look at you. Ocean, 
the nearer and dearer 


you are 


Your tumult — 


to my heart. 


your blue 


forever Tm glad to hear it; 


my eyes 


drink in 


like no other — 


in breadth. 


in blood, 


in cause. 


my revolution’s 


in spirit. 


elder brother. 


1925 



CONTAGIOUS CARGO 


The steamer hove in, 

hooted, 

roared, 


and, 

700 


runaway convict, 

they’ve chained ’cr. 


humans on board. 

Negroes — 

the remaindei . 

Out of a launch 

to the steamer decks. 


Popping 

for inspection, 
the doctor squints 

through tortoise-shell specs; 
“Anyone got infection?” 

Pimples well-powdered, 

features well -washed, 
swaying and swaggering coyly, 
the first class 

filed 

as the doctor watched 

with smile 


urbane and oily. 
From double-bar reller nostrils 


exhaling 


blue smoke 

in a cunning ring, 
headmost came 

in a diamond halo 


Swift — 


the porker king. 

A yard 

from his snigger 

the stinkpipe stuck. 

Go, 

pry into clients like these! 

Under cambric vest, 

under silken trunks. 


4 * 


51 



go and discern 


disease. 

Island! 

To abstinence 

take recourse. 

Don’t let him beyond the docks. 

But no — 

the captain 

salutes, in due course, 

and Swift is let loose 

with the pox. 

First class done with, 

the second class goes 


in 

for examination. 

The doctor pokes 

into ear and nose, 
the picture of irritation. 

The doctor sneered, 

and the doctor scowled, 

jowls 

all askew 

with spleen, 
then sent three blokes 

from the second class ciowd 
for a couple of days’ quarantine. 

After the second class 

loomed the third, 

black 

with niggers 

as ink. 


The doctor 

looked at his watch, 
“Cocktail-hour, 

1 should think. 


Off! 


disturbed, 


and shut ’em up in the hold. 

Ill— 

clear as day!” 

he stated. 

“Dirty vagabonds! 

And, all told, 


52 



not one of ’em 

vaccinated.” 

Down 

in the hold 

he sprawls, Toni Jackson, 

hell of a pain 

in his noddle. 

Tomorrow 

they’ll jab him 

with smallpox vaccine 

and home 

Tom Jackson’ll toddle. 

Tommy, 

he’s got a wife on shore; 
hair — like a soft black cushion, 
and skin — 

the sleekest you ever saw, 

just like 

Black Lion shoeshine. 

While Tom 

went tramping 

for work 

abroad 


— Cuba’s got eyes 
his wife 


for beauty — 


got sacked 

for what the boss called 
dodgin’ her nat’ral duty. 

The moon chucks coins 

on the ocean bed — 

dive in 

and all ills will mend. 

No meat whole weeks, 

no meal ‘n’ no bread, . 

just pineapples 

weeks on end. 

Another steamer 

screwed in by its screw — 

’s weeks 

till the next’ll be cornin’. 

Hunger’s no help 

in pulling through. 


53 



Ah, Tommy don’t love me. 

Tommy ain’t true, 
shares his mat with a white, 

does Tommy. 

No way of earning, 

no chance to steal — 

police 

under parasols 

everywhere. 

And Swift — 

those exotics make him feel 

lascivious 

as a terrier. 

Old Sallow 

perspired 

under trunks and vest 

at flesh 

so juicy and black. 

FTe poked 

his bucks 

at the face, the breast — 

at the moons 

with famine slack. 

Then grappled 

hunger, 

that lifelong foe, 

with heavy-weight 

faithfulness. 

Inside 

was the clear decision 

NO, 

yet lips 

broke huskily: 

YES 

Already pushing 

the dopr with his shoulder 
was festering Mister Swift. 

And time 

wasn’t 

a minute older 

when up they were whisked by the lift. 


54 



Tom 


turned up 

in a week or so 
and a fortnight through 

slept fast, 

glad 

that they’d be 

with bread and dough 
and the smallpox bogy was past. 

But there came a day 

when on Negro skin 

ominous patterns 

were etched 

and children 

their mothers’ wombs within 

grew dumb, 

blind 

and wretched. 

The calendar skimmed 

from day to day 
crippling legs and arms, 
eating 

half their bodies 


away, 

stretching their palms 

for alms. 

And special note 

of the Negro 

was made 

when the flock 

collected for prayer. 
Pointing towards 

this visual aid 

Parson Dry 

would declare: 

“It’s God 

who punishes 

man 

' and wife 

for her 

bringing visitors home.” 

And rotting black flesh 

for the rest of life 


55 



peeled from rottinff Negio bone. 
Nosing’ in politics? 

Not my vocation. 

1 just 

jot down 

what I see. 

Some folks 

call it 


others — 


CIVILISATION, 


CO LO NIAL PO LI CY. 


1926 



A SKYSCRAPER DISSECTED 


Take 

the bigg*erniost 

New Yt)rk house, 

scan it through 

from bottom to top: 
you’ll find age-old cubbyholes 

fit foi* a mouse, 

a very 

pre-October 

Yelets or Konotop.^^ 

First floor — 

jewellers 

in unrelieved vigil. 

Locks hitched fast 

to the shutter’s brow. 
Film-star policemen, 

grey-clad, rigid; 
hound-like they’ll die 

guarding others’ dough. 

Third floor — 

offices, 

gains and losses. 

Blotting-paper 

rotting 

in slavish sweat. 

So the world 

shan’t forget 

who the boss is — 


doorsigns 

in gold: 

“William Sprat”. 

Fifth. 

After counting 

the slips in her trousseau 

an over-ripe miss 

lies in dreams about grooms. 

Her bust 

raising lace 

whose finesse 

rouses awe. 


57 



she scratches 


her armpits’ 

prodigious brooms. 

Seventh. 

Having built up 

his strength 

through sport 

a mister 

towers 

over the domestic hearth; 

discovering 

marital infidelity 

of some sort, 

he gives a polishing 

to his better half. 

Tenth. 

A honeymoon-couple in bed. 

Connubial bliss 

written large on their faces. 

Busy reading 

a A'ew York 1 hues iid: 

“Buy our cars 

on a monthly basis.” 

Thirtieth. 

Shareholders in conference jam, 
dividing billions 

with snarl and scuffle — 
the profits of a firm 

manufacturing ham 

out of top-quality 

Chicago 

dog-offal. 

Fortieth. 

By the bedroom of a music-hall beaut’, 
focussing his fervour 

on the keyhole of the said, 
to wrest a divorce from Coolidge,^^ 

a sleuth 

waits to catch a husband 

red-handed 

in bed. 

A free-lance painter 

of bare-arse portraits 


58 



dozes in the ninetieth, 

contemplating 
how to win the favour 

at the landlord’s daughter 

and simultaneously 

get him 

to buy a painting. 

Penthouse. 

Tablecloth 

white past believing. 

Alone 

in the restaurant 

next to the sky 

a Negro cleaner 

eats sizeable leavings, 

while rats 

clean up crumbs 

of lesser size. 

I look 


in a blend 

of anger and boredom 

at the inmates 

of the ninety-storey shack. 

I’d meant 

to go 7,000 miles forward, 
but it looks, 

I’ve been taken 


seven years back. 


1929 



BROOKLYN BRIDGE 


Coolidgc, old boy, 
give a whoop of joy! 

What’s good is good — 

no need for debates. 

Blush red with my praise, 

swell with pride 

till you’re spherical, 

though you be ten times 

United States 

of America. 

As to Sunday church 

the pious believer 

walks, 

devout, 

by his faith bewitched, 

so I, 

in the grisly mirage 

of evening 

step, with humble heart, 

on to Brooklyn Bridge. 

As a conqueror rides 

through the town he crushes 

on a cannon 

by which himself’s a midge, 

so — 

drunk with the glory — 

all life be as luscious — 

I clamber, 

proud, 

on to Brooklyn Bridge. 

As a silly painter 

into a museum Virgin 

infatuated, 

plunges 

his optics’ fork, 
so I 

from a height on heaven verging 

look 

through Brooklyn Bridge at New York. 

New York, 

till evening stifling and bewildering. 


60 



forgets 

both its sultriness 

and its height, 

and only 

the naked soul 

of a building 

will show 

in a window’s translucent light. 

From here 

the elevators 

hardly rustle, 

which sound alone, 

by the distance rubbered, 

betrays the trains 

as off they bustle, 

like crockery 

being put by 

in a cupboard. 

Beneath, 

from the river’s far-off mouth, 

sugar 

seems carted from mills by peddlars, 
it’s the windows of boats 

bound north and south — 

tinier 

than the tiniest pebbles. 

I pride 

in the stride 

of this steel-wrought mile. 

Embodied in it 

my visions come real — 

in the striving 

for structure 

instead of style, 
in the stern, shrewd balance 

of rivets and steel. 

If ever 

the end of the world 

should arrive, 

and chaos 

sweep off 

the planet’s last ridge, 


61 



with ihc only 

lonely 

thing to survive 

towering over debris 

this bridge, 

then, 

as out of a needle-thin bone 
museums 

rebuild dinosaurs, 
so future’s geologist 

fiom this bridge alone 

will remodel 

these days 

of ours. 

He’ll say: 

this mile-long iron arch 

welded 

oceans and prairies together. 

From here old Europe 

in westward march 

swished 

to the winds 

the last Indian feather. 

This rib will remind 

of machines by its pattern. 

Consider — 

could anyone with bare hands 

planting 

one steel foot 

on Manhattan 

pull Brooklyn 

up 

by the lip 

where he stands? 

By the wires — 

those tangled electric braidings — 

he’ll tell: 

it came after steam, their era. 

Here people 

already 

hollered by radio, 

62 



here folks 

had already soared up by aero. 

Here life 

for some 

was a scream of enjoyment, 

for others — 

one drawn-out, 

hungry howl. 

From here the martyrs of unemployment 
dashed headlong 

into the Hudson’s scowl. 

And further — 


my picture unfurls without hitch — 
by the harp-string ropes, 

at the stars’ own feet, 

here stood Mayakovsky, 

on this same bridge, 
and hammered his verses 


I stare like a savage 


beat by beat, 
at an electric switch, 


eyes fixed 

like a tick on a cat. 

Yeah, 


Brooklyn Bridge. . . . 
It’s something, that! 


1925 



SERGEI ESENIN 


You’ve departed, 

as they say, 

to another world. 

Emptiness. . . . 

Fly on, 

with stars colliding. 

No money to collect. 

No beershops. 

In a word — 

Sobriety. 

No, Esenin, 

this is not a sneer. 

No chortles in my throat, 

but a lump of woe. 

A sagging bone-bag 

in my vision 

you appear, 

red runnels 

from your slashcd-up wrist-veins^^ flow. 

Stop, 

leave off! 

Are you in your right mind? 

To let your cheeks be smeared 

with deathly lime? 

You, 

who’d pull off pranks 

of such a kind 

that no one 

could have matched at any time! 

Why? 

What for? 

There’s really no accounting. 

Critics mumble, 

it was all because 

this and that — 

but chiefly poor class-contact 

which resulted 

in too much strong drink, 

of course. 


64 



'‘Had he given up 

bohemians 

lor ihc class 

it’d induencc him, 

he’d have less time for fights. . . 

But that class — 

you think it slakes its thirst 

with kvass^’^''^ 

Yeah— 

the class — 

it doesn’t 

mind a booze 

on pay-day nights 

If, they say, 

he had been supervised 

by someone “at the post”^'* 

he’d have got 

a lot more gifted 

as to content. 

He’d have written verse 

as fast as prose 

(long-drawn-out and dreary as Doronin* ’) 

But if some such thing had happened, 

I should think 

you’d have done it — 

slit your wrist-veins — 

long before. 

I’d rather, 

if you ask me, 

die of drink 

than be bored to death 

or live a bore. 

Whether it was boredom 

or despair 

neither you 

nor penknife 

can explain. 

Maybe, 

had there been some ink 

in the Angleterre 

there’d have been no cause 

to slit a vein. 


5—570 


65 



Imitators jumped at it — 


Dozens hurried 

to repeat the bloody deed. 

But, listen, 

why increase 

the suicidal score? 

Better make more ink 

to meet the need! 

His tongue’s now locked 

between his teeth 

forever. 

To bandy words 

is just a shame 

and waste of breath. 

The people, 

that supremest language-weaver, 
has lost a lusty 

young apprentice 

with his death. 

So now 

they bring along 

funereal scrap, 

verses 

scarce rebotched 

since the last decease, 

and line the grave 

with lines 

obtuse and drab. 

Is that the homage 

that a poet should receive? 

Although the monument 

that you deserve 

has not been cast- 

where is it, 

ringing bronze 

and hard’-grained granite? — 

The drain of memory’s 

already thick with dust; 

remembrances 

and dedications 

set upon it. 



Your name 


is being snivelled 


into hankies. 


With your words 


maestro Sobinov^^ 


and trills 


hanky-pankies 


beneath a stillborn birch, 


‘Oh not a wo-o-ord, 


as if he’d die, 


my friend. 


ah, not a si-i-igh!”^^ 

Bah! 

I’d like to talk 

a bit more briskly 

with that selfsame 

Leonid V. Loengrinsky!^^ 

I’d stand up in their way, 

a thundering brute: 

“How dare you mumble verse 

like cows chew cud?” 

I’d deafen them — 

I’d whistle and I’d hoot: 

“Your blank-blank mother, 

grandmother, 

your blinking soul and God!’ 

So all the giftless scum 

skedaddle off to hell, 

Happing 

their inflated 

jacket-skirts, 

so P. S. Kogan^^ 

should go scattering 

pell-mell, 

piercing 

all he meets 

with whisker-darts. 

Riff-raff 

hasn’t scarcened much 

as yet. 

There’s lots to do, 

so hurry, mates, 

along. 


67 



Life must first 

be thoroughly reset, 

1 cbuill — 

I eiiuulc-- 

aiid only then exiolled in song. 

These days — 

they are a little hard 

upon tlie pen. 

But tell me, 

cripples, 

cripplesses, 

if it please you, 

whoever of the great ones, 

where and when 

chose paths 

that weie both better-trod 

and easier? 

Words 

command arul muster 

human strength. 

March! 

Let time explode like gunshells, 

far behind, 

so that back to the old days 

the wind should lling 

only hairscraps, 

twisted up and twined! 

It isn’t much equipped tor merriment, 

our world. 

I^et’s wrest joy 

from the giips 

of a future day! 

Dying 

in this life 

is not so hard. 

Building life 

is harder, 

1 daresay. 


192G 



TO COMRADE NETTE—SrEAMER 
AND MAN^^ 


Not in vain I start. 

No ghost-talc rubbish, reader. 
Through the harbour’s molten sunshine, 

past the jetty 

steams 

the very self 

of Comrade l iJKODOKIC 

NETTE. 

Yes, it’s he; 

all in a hurry to arrive, 
through those lifebuoy-saucer spectacles 

he looks. 


“Hullo, Nette! 

How I’m glad that you'ie alive 
with the smoking life of funnels, 

ropes 

and hooks. 


Full up here! 

1 liope it’s not too shallow. 

Tired, 

I fancy, 

boiling all the distance from Batum. 
Once you were a man. . . . 

Remember, 

dear old fellow, 

the tea that on a train we would consume? 

One eye cocked 

towards your red-sealed cargo, 

nights on end, 

while others snored away 
about old Romka Yakobson^^ 

you’d argue. 


memorising poems 

' in your funny way. 

Off you’d drop at dawn. 

Is that revolver there? 


Better mind their business, 

if they’re wise! 


69 



Could I think 

that only in a year 
I should meet you 

in this cargo-steamer guise? 

There’s <hc moon come up. 

A stirring sight, I’ll say! 

Slashing space in two, 

astern she’s looming ; 

as if, it seems, 

from that last battle in the passageway 
your deathless hero-track 

were trailing, 

blood-illumined. 

Your print-and-paper communism’s not believed so readily. 
“Balloney, boy! 

It’s true in books alone.” 

But things like these 

will show you communism bodily 
transforming “fancies” 

all at once 

to flesh and i)one. 

We live under a pledge 

that grips in iron unity, — 

no ciucifix will nail, 

no guns on earth will crush us, — 

that’s for humanity 

to live in one community, 
not in a world all parcelled into Latvias 

and Russias. 

Blood 

runs in our veins, 

not lukewarm water. 

Marching 

through revolver bark and blast, 
when wc die, 

it’s to become immortal, 
cast in steamers, 

verse 

and other things that last. 

I could forge ahead 

through years and years, 
but when life is done, 

there’s nothing better 

70 



I should wish 


than meet the end 


in the way 


when my time nears 


that death was met 


by Comrade Nclte 


1026 



DON’7 YOUR SHOULDER BLADES 'ITCH? 


Whenever a rainbow 

hangs down its bow 


or the sky 

shines blue 

without patch oi stitch, 


tell me, 

don’t yoiii shouldei blades — 

both 


begin to itch? 

Don’t you wish 

that Irom under your jcisey 
where a drudge-born hump 

used to hide, 


throwing off 

the shirt’s dull burden, 
a pair of wings 

would go winging wide/ 

Or when night 

with its nighiliest stais 

lolls along 


and the Bears — 

Great and Little — 

prowl and giowl, 


don’t you feel restless? 

Don’t you long. . .? 


Oh yes, you do, 

and how! 

We’re cramped. 

And the sky 

has no bounds, 

no border. 


Oh, 

to fly up 

to God’s apartments 

and show 

old Savaoh 

an eviction order 
from the Moscow Soviet’s 

Housing Department! 


72 



Kaluga, 

dug in 

among meadow 

and grove, 

dozing 

down 

in your earthly pit! 

Now then, Kaluga, 

come on, Tambov! 

Skyward 

like sparrows 

flit! 

Isn’t it line, 

with marriage on your mind, 

swish! — 

to wing off 

over land and sea, 

to pluck out 

an ostrich’s feather 

fj'om behind 

and l)ack 

with a present 

for your fiance? 

Saratov! 

On what 

have you fixed an eye? 

Charmed? 

By a birdie’s dot? 

Up- 

soar swallow-like 

into the sky; 

it’s time you grew wings, 

that’s what! 

Here’s a good thing to do — 

no deed more audacious; 

choose a night 

, and dash through it, 

devil-me-dare, 

to Rome; 

give a thrashing 

to a Roman fascist 


73 



then back 


in an hour 


Or else — 


to your samovar in Tver. 


the dawn’s opened up 


and go racing: 


you sec 


wlio’s faster — 


if or me? 


Buf. . . . 

all this is nothing 

but imagination. 

People 

so far 

are a wingless nation. 

People 

are created on a lousy plan: 

a back 

good for nothing but pains. 

So to buy an aeroplane each, 

if you can, 

is really 

all that remains. 

Like a bird then with tail, 

two wings 

and feathers 

you’ll whet your nose 

all records to beat. 

Tear off the ground! 

Fly, planes, through the heavens! 

Russia, 

soar up 

in a sky-bound fleet! 

Quicker! 

Why, 

stretching up like a pole, 
admire from earth 

the heavenly hole? 

Come, 

show your bravery, 

avio! 


1923 



PAPER HORRORS 

(experienced by Vladimir Mayakovsky) 

If I held 

in my hands 

the idanct’s reins 
I’d stop the earth for a minute: 

“Hark, 

d’you hear 

pens scraping, 

fountain- and plain, 

as if 

the earth’s teeth 

were grating in the dark?” 

Men’s pride, 

subside, 

be forever forgot! 

To a dot 

humanity’s future 

tapers. 

Man 

is gradually 

becoming a blot 

on Hie margins 

of enormously important papers. 

Men are wedged like shadows 

in domestic cubbyholes. 

Ten square feet per nose — 

yet for papers’ glee — 

whole castles of offices — 

sprawl over tables 

or lie back in safes 

as content as can be. 

Queues trail out 

for cloth 

at a shop. 

No galoshesTor feet, 

not a glove for your paw. 

Yet for papers 

there’s baskets, 

a bumper crop, 



No 1110) c to hc\n 

loi one dciv ,is .1 dole 
i\nd I hen to ago 

ill endless soiiov\' di owned 
hill to see all the world 

at the Inst ( all 


ol ■(iomiade' ’ 


luin in glad lesponse aioiiix! 

l! 




and for “cases’ ” carcasses — 

folders galore. 

Rubles for travel — 

how many 

have you? 

Ever been in Madrid? 

I bet you 

no! 

Yet for papers, 

to enable them 

to sail and travel 

they’re even erecting 

a new G.P.O.! 

Thin as clips 

turn the legs 

of the former strong. 

Instructions oust brains — 

no one feels the loss. 
Men degrade into errand-boys 

running along 

in the service of paper 

turned boss. 

Papers burst 

from portfolios stodgy, 

baring 

their white-toothed hem; 
soon people 

will crawl into portfolios 

for lodgings, 

as for flats — 

papers 

will move into them. 

I foresee in the future — 

no fantasy of mine, 

but a prophecy 

blared put 

by paper trumpets: 

papers . 

shall sit at tables 

and dine 

and mannikins 

lie under the tables 

crumpled. 


78 



I’d unfurl 

a storm 

of rioting banners — 
tear papers with my teeth 

and, indignant, yell: 

“Every inch 

of useless paper, 

proletarians, 

hate like your enemy, 

abhor like hell! ” 


1927 



A CHAT IN ODESSA HARBOUR 


hciwecn s.s. Soiiir/ Daghestan 
and Red Abkhazia 


Clouds, 

come, 

lend the sunset west, 

canary-feathers! 

Fall on sea and land, 

black yoke of southern night! 

Two ships at anchorage 

begin a chat together: 

one blinks — 

the other answers with a light. 

What are they signalling.^ 

i strain my forehead’s luirow, 

a red light Hashes on 

then fades 

and turns to green 

Probably 

he wants a date tomorrow, 
or perhaps 

just frets in jealous spleen.^ 

Or perhaps 

he’s asking, 

"'Red Abkhazia, 

it’s me, 

the gunboat 

Soviet Daghestan. 

Sulking all alone — 

what can be crazier? 

Come here, baby, — 

let me hold your hand.” 

Silence. 

Then Abkhazia replies at last, 

“Can’t get on alone? 

You’ll have to learn. 

‘Coz I’m now in love 

up to the mast 

with the grey 

three-funnelled cruiser 

Komintern"" 


80 



“All you women 

are just sluts 

and nothing else. 

What’s she see in him, 

that lumbering old braggart?” 

And again he signals 

with short yells: 

“Hear me, someone, 

send us some tobacco! 

It’s dull here, on the searoads — 

dripping wet. 

Fit to give one cramps 

and lust one’s armour.” 

The whole world sleeps, 

the shimmering Black Sea shed — 

a giant tear of blue — 

u])on Odessa harl)Our. 


c— r>70 



TASTES MAY DIFFER 


The hoise 


saw the c«iincl 

and laughed herself hoaise 

“Such 


a tremendous 

freak of a horse!” 

The camel rejoined: 

“You — a horse '* 

not ncaily! 


You’re an underdeveloped camel, 

merely.” 


And only God, 

omniscient indeed, 
knew they were mammals 

of dilfeicnl biecd. 


1029 



A LErrER FROM PARIS 
lO COMRADE KOSrROV^-^ 
ON THE ESSENCE 
AND MEANING OF LOVE 


Comrade Kostrov, 

I’m sure you won’t mind — 

I know, 

generosity’s one of your merits — 
if part of the lines 

for Paris assigned 

I’ll squander 

on petty lyrics. 

Imagine: 

a beauty 

enters a hall 

framed 

in necklace and furs, 

and I 

says to her 

with no preface Lit all 
these very selfsame words: 

I’ve 

just come 

from Russia, comrade. 

In my country 

I’m a figure. 

I’ve seen women 

far more comely, 


women 

prettier 

and slimmer. 


Girls 


go crazy 


and I’m 


over poets, 


vociferous 


Come along! 


Snub me? 


and smart. 

Just watch me go it. 


No one’s got the heart. 


83 



You won’t catch me 

double-dealing, 

dabbling 

in petty lust. 

Deep down in my heait’s 

that feeling, 

carry it through life 

or bust! 


I’ll not measure 

love by weddings. 

Leave me, would you.^ 

Very well. 

I don’t give a damn. 

I’ve said it, 

for a bleeding wedding bell. 

So, my girl, 

don’t let’s be dainty. 

Let’s not joke. 

Almighty God^ 

Mademoiselle, 

I’m long past twenly — 
better call it thirty odd. 

Love doesn’t mean 

just eternal uniest, 

nor the way 

one can burn and flare. 

It’s that 

which heaves 

under mountain-breasts, 

behind 

the jungle of hair. 

To love means to rush out 

into the yard 

and right until ravening night 
with a flashing axe 

to chop faggots hard 

in a fireworks 

of manly might. 

To love 

is to break 


from insomnia-torn sheets, 
with jealousy of Copernicus 

swallowing saliva; 


81 



him, 

not the husband 

of Mrs. Sugar-and-Sweets 

regarding 

as your most deadly rival. 

Love 

for us 

isn’t F.den and so on. 

Love 

for us 

booms that once again 

our heart’s 

too-long-cooling engine 

will go (311 

working 

against 

all odds 

and pain. 

You’ve severed 

with Moscow 

every thread, 

it’s years 

since you 

and it came to part. 

Then how shall I hammer 

into your head 

the gist 

of that state of heart? 

Lights cover the earth 

right up to the sky. 

The sky’s full of stars — 

go, count the lot. 

If I wasn’t 

already a poet 

I 

would turn astronomer, 

honest to God! 

A hubbub fills 

both alley and square. 

The traffic 

speeds past 

like mad. 


85 



while I 

go sauntering 

here and there 
and jot down rhymes 

in a pad. 

I’he cai s 

that 1 arc 

along the stieel 
won’t knock me down 

by chance. 

They understand, 

and so take heed : 

the bloke’s 

in a lyric trance. 

A vortex of images, 

ideas, 

and visions 

the sizzling city 

brings. 

Why, 

even a bear 

in such conditions 

would grow 

a pair of wings. 

And then 

out of one of the thiid-iate bais 
after stewing 

inside 

for a time 

a word 

zooms upward 

straight to the stars 

like a comet, 

all ashine, 
its tail stretched out 

over half the skies, 

its plumes — 

the heavens’ highlight, 
for lovers to sit 

and feast their eyes 

while smelling 

their arbour’s 

lilac; 


86 



to rouse 

and lead 

and enthuse 

and uphold ’em, 

those 

whose spirit is wavering, 
to saw off enemies’ heads 

from their sJiouldcrs 

witli a glittering 

long-bladed 

sabre. 

ni stand 

till the very last beat in my breast 

as if 

on a rendezvous, 
and listen 

to love 

booming on in its nest, 

simple, 

human 

and true. 

Sea-tide, 

hurricane, 

tempest 

and flame 

rumble inside me 

and swell! 

Who’d take such a pet 

to own and tame? 

You would? 

Very well! 


1928 



MY SOVIET PASSPORT 


I’d rip out 

bureaucracy’s guts, 

I would. 

No reverence for mandates — 

good riddance! 

Pack off to very hell 

for good 

any old paper, 

but this one. . . . 

Past berths and compartments 

drawn out in a line 

moves a customs official, 

most courteous-looking. 
Folks hand in their passports 

and I hand in mine, 

my crimson- jacketed 

bookling. 

Some passports 

bring smiles 

in a matter of instants. 

Others 

arc fit but to fie on. 

Special deference 

is shown, 

for instance 

for those 

with the double-bed 

British Leo. 

Bowing non-stop, 

as if rocked by a ship, 

eating their eyes 

into the *‘kind old uncles”, 

they take, 

as if they were taking a tip 
the passports 

of lanky Yankees. 

At Polish passports 

they bulge out their eyes 

in thick-skulled 

policemen’s 

donkeyness, 


88 



as if to say: 

what 

the devil are these 

geographical 

novelties? 

Without even turning 

their cabbage-like heads, 

hardly deigning 

to touch them, 

they take, 

absent-minded, 

the passports of Swedes 


and all sorts 

of other Dutchmen. 


But suddenly 


as if 


Mr. Officer’s face 

turns awry. 


lie has smelled disaster. 

You’ve guessed it: 

the officer’s taken my 
red-skinned hulk of a passport. 

He handles it 

like a hedgehog 

or bomb, 


like a bee 

to be nipped 

by the wings, 
like a twisting rattlesnake 

three yards long 


with a hundred 


deadly stings. 

The porter winks; 

to tell the truth, 
he’d carry your luggage 

free 


all the way for you. 


The gendarme 

looks questioningly 

at the sleuth. 


the sleuth looks back: 

what to do with this wayfarer? 


89 



Witli what dclif^lit, 

by the gendarmes, 

damn it, 

I’d be Hayed, 

crucified, 

hanged 

for the crime of holding 

a sickled, 

harnmei ed 

Soviet passport 

in my hand! 

I’d rip out bureaucracy’s guts, 

I would. 

No reverence for mandates — 

good riddance! 

Pack off to very hell 

for good 

any old paper, 

but this one. . . . 

As 

the most valuable 

of certificates 

1 pull it 

from the pants 

where my documents are 

read it — 

envy me — 

I’m a citizen 

of the USSR! 


1929 



CLOUD IN PAN IS 

PROLOGUE 


Your thoughts 

day-dreaming in a pudden’-soft head 
like an overfed lackey on a greasy sofa, 
ril tease with my heart’s blood-streaming shred, 
deride you, audacious, till you smart all over. 

In my soul there isn’t a single grey hair, 
no senile tenderness does it hold! 

My voice thundering everywhere, 

I go, — handsome, 
twenty-two-years old. 

Tender lovers 
with violins vie. 

The ruder compete with cymbals. 

But can anyone turn inside out like I 

to be nothing but lips, bodiless and limbless? 

C.ome and I’ll tccicli you. 

Miss Now-Now-No-Fooling, 
angelic, stiff as the wall of a precipice. 

Come you, too, who skim over lips as coolly 

as a cook skims through books of cooking recipes. 

If you want — 

I can be all crazy flesh, 

the antipode of polite romance. 

Or 

sweet and delicate as you wish; 
not a man but a cloud in pants. 

I’ll never believe there’s a flowery Nice. 

Today once again I sing glory 

to men who’ve sinned till they’re sick of vice, 

to women worn as a trite old story. 

1 

You think it’s delirium? Malaria? 

No! 

It happened 
in Odessa 
when 

“I’ll come at four,” said Maria. 


91 



Eight. 

Nine. 

Ten. 

Already the evening, 
gloomy, decemberly, 
departs from the windows 
into the horror of night. 

Into its llabby bark, chortling with devilry, 
chandeliers stick their light. 

You wouldn’t recognise me — 
a sinewy mountain 
groaning and contorting, 
jowls all knots. 

What can a hulk like that be wanting? 

Lots! 

For myself, you know, it doesn’t much matter 

that I’m all bronze, 

that my heart’s steel and ice. 

At night one wants to hide one’s metal 
in something feminine, 
soft and nice. 

So, 

enormous, 

hunched, 

in the window I show, 

my forehead smelting the windowpancs shiny 
W^ill there be love or no? 

Big 

or tiny? 

It can’t be a big one in such a brute; 
must be just a lovekin, 
timid as a lamb, 

thrown into jitters when motorcars hoot, 
adoring the tinkle of a tram. 

I wait and wait, 

poking my face 

into the rain’s pocked hide. 


92 



The minutes race 

as I stand there, splashed 

by the thunder of the city’s tide. 

Midnight, rushing along with a dagger, 
caught up, 
stabbed the day — 
ready! 

The twelfth hour 

staggered 

and fell 

like the head of a felon beheaded. 

Raindrops landing on the windowpanc, 

fusing into a monstrous grimace, 

howled in alarm 

like the scowling chimeras 

On tlic Notre Dame. 

Damn! 

Isn’t she coming yet? 

Yells tear my mouth — 
it’s too much to stand. 

Then I hear: 
as softly 

as a patient from a bed 
slips out a nerve 

and 

first slowly, 
scarce creeping, 
then running 
here and there, 

it and a couple of others go leaping 
in a crazy dance of despair. 

Chash! — went the plaster from the ceiling downstairs 

Nerves, 

barmy, 

gallop and stampede, 
little. 


93 



big, 

single and in pairs, 

Yiicc till, exhausted, 
they fall off their feet. 

Night oozes into the room, in quagmire fashion 
My leaden eyes stick 

in the sludge of the night. 

The doors in the corridor suddenly start gnashing 
as if the hotel’s teeth 
chattered with fright. 

You entered, 

curt as a knife-thrust unparried, 
torturing the kid of your glove. 

“You know, 

I’m getting married!” 

There now, talk ahoul love! 

All right. Go ahead. 

No harm. 

Of course, 
l^ook at me — 

I’m calm 

as the pulse of a corpse. 

• Remember — 
you used to ask: 

“Jack London, 

money, 

love, 

passion — 
aren’t they real?” 

And I — all I knew 

was that you’re the Gioconda 

that somebody’s got to steal. 

And so they did. 

Again, love-crazy. I’ll plunge into games, 
illumining my eyebrows’ arches with hellfire. 


94 



What of it? 

A house that has been in flames 

can also sometimes give vagabonds shelter. 

You tease me? 

“A beggar can boast more pennies 
than you have emeralds of insanity.’’ 

Remember 

the fate that befell Pompeii 

when Vesuvius was roused into rage by humanity? 
Hey, 

gentlemen, 

lovers 

of sacrilege, 

massacre, 

crime; 

have you seen 

the most horrible of all horrors — 
my face when it’s absolutely serene 

I feel 
that “1” 

is too small for me; 

irresistibly, I’m turning into somebody or other. 
“Hullo! 

Who’s talking?” 

Who can it be — 

Mother? 

Mother! 

Your son is beautifully sick. 

There’s no time to wait. 

His heart is on fire. 

Go, tell it to both his sisters, quick! 

Or else it may be too late. 

Every word, 
be it even a joke, 

that his scorched mouth belches out. Mother, 
leaps like a naked whore through the smoke 
out of a burning brothel. 


95 



People sniff — 
something’s frying. 

A brigade comes in helmets 
and suits 
of asbestos. 

Look out with your boots, Messrs, firemen, 
hearts on fire should be handled with caresses! 

Wait, 

I’ll roll out my tearfilled eyes for watertubs. 

Just let me gain hold on my ribs. 

Stand by; I’ll escape, though escape be torturous. 
They’ve collapsed! 

This heart holds me fast in its grips. 

From my lips 

jammed tight like a fire-lickcd door 
struggles a kisslet — the last left whole. 

Mother, I can’t go on singing any more: 

The smoke is choking the choir of my soul. 

Charred words and phrases of all sorts and size 
jump to safety from my burning cranium. 

So terror once stretched burning hands to Ihc skies 
from the fire-gutted decks of the Lusitania?^' 

To people trembling 
in domestic quiet 

the hundred-eyed fireglow streaks from the anchorage. 
You, at least, 
my last cry, 
groan out: 

“I’m on fire!” 

to the coming centuries. 

2 


Glorify me! 

What, to me, are the great? 

On all created I set my NULL. 

Reading? 

The very idea I hate. 

Books? 

How dull! 


96 



I used to think 

that books were made this way: 

the poet comes, 

unseals his lips with ease 

and sings, inspired old ninny, i ight away — 

please! 

But actually, 

before the singing can start 
you walk, beblistered with fermentation, 
while softly wallows in the silt of your heart 
that silly haddock, imagination. 

Doves and nightingales, peppered with rhyme, 
he broils in his pot, the doddering nitwit, 
while the street goes writhing in dumb pantomime 
with nothing to shout or speak with. 

Vainglorious, again and again we build 

our cities — towers of Babel; 

then God comes 

and topples city on field 

mixing words into a babble. 

Its yell 
throttled, 

as if kidnapped for ransom, 
silent, the street heaved in agony, 
bloated taxi and gristly hansom 
bristling, jammed like a gag in it. 

Chest all pedestrianed — 
no consunaptive’s more flat — 

pushing off the churchporch, that trod on its throat, 
out on the square the congestion it spat. 

God, it seemed, with his choir of archangels following, 
robbed, would descend with punishing club. 

But the street only squatted, hollering 
“LET’S— GET— GRUB!” 

Churlish makeup-men, krupps and kruppsies, 
paint on the city a grimace bearish, 
while in mouths lie words — decaying corpses. 


7—570 


97 



two alone live and fattening — 

BASTARD 
and, I believe, 

BORSHCH. 

The poets, slobbering in tears and sobs, 
dashed clear of the street, clutching their locks: 
“How shall we ever get on with our jobs 
with only such two 
to sing daisies, 
love and pink frocks?” 

After the poets — 

the street-going nation: 

students, 

prostitutes, 

contractors. 

Compatriots ! 

Stop! 

Why this humiliation? 

How dare you beg them be benefactors!* 

We, brawn and sinew, 

robust and supple men, 

for us to be beggars? Rip them instead, 

them, hanging on as a free supplement 

to every double bed! 

Ask them for favours? 

Wait till they grant them? 

Beg rhymester-py|;‘mies for anthem and oratory? 
We ourselves 

are creators in a burning anthem — 
the roar of factory and laboratory. 

What’s Faustus to me, 
though he may scoot 

through celestial fireworks beside Mephistopheles! 
I know, 

the nail in boot 

than any of Goethe’s fancies more awful is. 


98 



I, the gold-tongued, 
my every word giving 
new life to the body, 
new birth to the soul, 

I tell you, 

the tiniest speck living 

is more precious than all I have written 


—All! 


Listen! 

Blaspheming and cursing, 
here 

preaches today’s yell-mouthed Zoroaster. 

We, lips a-blob like a chandelier, 

faces like grimy plaster, 

we, 

chain-gangmen of the leper-house city 
where gold and filth breed the hideous disease — 
we’re purer than Venice in all her purity 
laved and laundered by suns and seas. 

Much worry for me 
that the Ovids and Homers 
had nobody like us, 
all coal-pocked and sooty. 

I know, 

the sun would fade out, almost, 
stunned by our soul’s Hellenic beauty. 

No prayer so sure as muscles and grit. 

To the devil meekness be hurled. 

We— 

each of us — 
hold in our grip 

the transmission belts of the world! 

It was this that hoisted me on the calvaries of rostrums^^ 
in towns and cities, low and high, 
and there wasn’t a soul who with dilated nostrils 
didn’t yell, 

“Crucify! 

Cru-ci-fy!” 


7 * 


99 



But to me, 

you, people, 

even those most hard, 

are so near and dear, there’s no meting it. 

Seen the dog in the yard 
licking the hand that’s beating it? 

I, 

laughed at by the contemporary tribe, 
like a joke that’s endless and obscene, 
see coming over the mountains of time 
that which nobody yet has seen. 

Where, curtailed, the eyes of mortals halt, 
at the head of starving hordes, 

I espy, 

crowned with the thorns of revolt 
the year 1916 draws nigh. 

And I’m among you 

to be its herald, 

everywhere where there’s pain, 

by every tear-drop that falls 

imperilled, 

crucified again and again. 

Today all forgiveness is at the last. 

I’ve burned out souls where softness was instilled. 
And that’s more difficult to do than blast 
a hundred thousand bastilles. 

And when, 
its coming 

with rebellion acclaiming, 
you pour out to meet the Saviour, 1 
will pull out my soul, 
big, bloody and flaming, 
a banner for you to lift on high. 

3 


Oh why, 

through the gaiety and smiling 
do fists, so dirty and brutal, thrust? 


100 



I’he thought of a lunatic asylum 
struck me, 

blinding with despair and disgust. 

And, 

just as they jump 
into hatches agape, 
choked by spasms of fear 
when a ship’s end is nigh. 

So Burlyuk, gone insane, sought escape 
through the panic-torn hole of his eye. 

From his tear-gutted eyelids, 
bleeding and hideous, 
he clambered, 
straightened his spine 

and with tenderness unexpected in so fat an individual 
exclaimed, 

“Fine!” 

It’s fine when your soul is muffled 

in a yellow blouse — safe from eyes prone to pry. 

It’s fine, when cast into the teeth of the scaffold, 

“Drink Van Huten’s Gocoa!”26 
to cry. 

That thundering moment, 
brighter than fireworks 
I’d not swap for anything, 
no, not for any. . . . 

But here, like a wineglass, 
through the cigar smoke 

protruded the wine-sodden face of Severyanin. 

How dare you bear the title of a poet 
and chirrup like a sparrow, drab and dull? 

Today like a blackjack, you should go it, 
bashing the world’s rotten skull. 

You, 

disturbed by the single doubt 
whether or not you dance with a limp. 


101 



look how I 
amuse myself, 

I, out-and-out 

vagabond, card sharp and pimp. 

From you, wallowing in your lovesick idylls, 
from you, dribbling tears from the beginning of time. 
I’ll withdraw, 

sticking the sun for an eyeglass 
into my wide-open eye. 

And thus, 

unimaginably dressed up. 

I’ll go through the world 
to thrill and enchant, 
leading Napoleon for a pup 
tied on a string, in front. 

All the world will sprawl like a woman at my feet 
and wobble its charms invitingly. 

Dead things will come alive 

and “Darling, sweet!” 

their lips will twitter excitingly. 

Suddenly the clouds 
to the very last cloudlet 

started rocking as far as the eye could descry, 
as if white workers, seeking an outlet 
for their anger, 
picketed the sky. 

The thunder, maddening, climbed from a cloud, 
inhaled and blew its nose briskly, 
and the face of the sky for a moment scowled 
in the sombre grimace of an iron Bismarck. 

And someone 

entangled in the clouds’ tenets 

extended hands to the cafe, 

simultaneously 

soft and tender 

and harsh as an auto-da-f6. 


102 



You think it was the sun, 
maternally tremulous, 
patting the cheek of a cafe? 

Not a whit! 

Once more, to execute rebels 
advances General Galliffet^^! 

Pub-crawlers, pull your hands out of your pants. 
Grab bombs, cobblestones, knives, or instead, 
those of you who haven’t got arms and hands 
batter at walls with your heads! 

Gome on, you timidlings, 

starvelings, 

sweatlings, 

festering in flea-ridden horridness! 

Let Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 
be dyed with our blood into holidays. 

Let the Earth recall under knives 
who she wanted to degrade, 
the Earth, 

bloated like the mistresses and wives 
by Rothschilds wedded and laid. 

Lamp posts, come on, hoist them higher, 
shop-keepers’ bloody bodies, 
for flags to flutter in the fever of fire 
as befitting proper holidays! 

Begging mercy, 
with oaths of all size, 

they grappled, fighting with claw and knife. 

The sunset convulsed, 
red as the Marseillaise, 
taking its leave of life. 

Already it’s madness. 

Nought else can happen. 

103 



Night’ll come, 
bite it off 
and swallow. 

See — again the heavens, like Judas, are happy 
with a handful of stars, treacherous and hollow. 

It comes 

and feasts like Mamai,^® even cruder, 
sitting on the city with its huge behind. 

That night — no eyes on earth could have screwed it, 
blacker than Azef,^® the blackest of his kind. 

Cramped, I huddle in the corner of a saloon, 
spill wine on my soul, on the tablecloth and all, 
while there, from across, round as the moon, 
the Madonna’s eyes eat into my soul. 

Why bless this stinking, pub-crawling herd 
with your gaudy stencilled aura? 

Can’t you see — 
again 

Barabbas is preferred 

to the spat-at Calvarian — our gracious lord? 

Perhaps it was ordained so — 
in the human sty 

I’m no newer in face than the rest, 
yet of all your sons 
maybe it’s I 

who is the devoutest, most beautiful and best. 

Grant them, 

rotting in their mUndane joys, 
a speedy death of time 
so that among their children 
boys 

should grow up to fatherly prime 

and girls give birth 

and the newborn mature 

to the grey-haired wisdom of sages 

and go along and christen their seed 

with names they find in my pages. 


104 



T, who glorify England and its engines, 
perhaps I’m simply a thirteenth apostle 
in the succession of apostles and archangels 
that populate the Holy Gospel. 

And when my voice 
goes obscenely booming 
its daily and nightly 
rigmarole, 

maybe Jesus Christ himself smells the blooming 
forget-me-nots of my soul. 

4 


Maria! Maria! Maria! 

Let me in, Maria! 

Don’t keep me out in the street. 

No? 

Waiting until my cheeks sink in, 
till, tasted by everyone, 

I go to waste? — 

till I come and mumble with a toothless grin 
that 

“Today I’m 

extraordinarily chaste”? 

Maria, 
look — 

I’m already getting hunched. 

All over the city, 

everywhere, 

bunched 

in the four-storeyed gizzards of flats 

people will poke out their eyes through their fats, 

eyes threadbare 

with forty years’ wear 

to giggle and pass on the infallible guess 

that “again he’s chewing like a broken-down mare 

the stale crust of yesterday’s caress”. 

All over the pavements the rain slobbers, 
hemmed in by the puddles, a homeless crook, 


105 



wet, licking the roads stoned to death by the cobbles, 
while on its hoary eyelashes — 
look! — 

on its frosty icicle-lashes 
tears from its eyes, 

from the downcast eyes of the drain-pipes — tears! — 
come welling out in spasmodic splashes. 

The raindrops every pedestrian licked 

while in carriages 

athlete after fat athlete glistened 

and burst, having grown so stout and slick, 

fat oozed through the cracks 

mixed with bits of gristle. 

Dripping in streamlets the colour of mud, 
together with spittle-soaked bread and sauerkraut 
like a sort of thoroughly masticated cud 
week-old cutlets c^une flowing out. 

Maria! 

How thrust a quiet word into their fat-clogged ear? 
Birds beg for a living 
by singing, 
resonant. 

And I’m just a human being, Maria, 

Just a human, spat out by consumptive night 
into the dirty hand of the Presnya. 

Maria, will you have such a creature near? 

Let me in, Maria, 

or with frantic fingers 

I’ll throttle the doorbell, pressing it. 

Maria! 

The cattleyards of the streets get beastlier. 

The rabble’s stranglehold grips me tight. 

Open! 

It hurts! 

See — my eyes are bristling 

with ladies’ hairpins stuck in for spite. 


106 



Ha! She’s opened. 

Dear, don’t be afraid 
that on my bullock neck 

sit sweat-bellied women in a mountain wet-skirted — 

a burden I’ll drag till I turn to a wreck; 

millions of great loves, 

pure, without a speck, 

and millions of lovelets, tiny and dirty. 

Dear, never fear 
if in fits of dishonesty 

I’ll cling to a thousand pretty faces again. 
Mayakovsky’s sweethearts — 
why, they’re a dynasty 

of empresses ascending a mad heart to reign. 

Maria! Come nearer! 

In shameless nudity 

or in shivering fright, 

give me your lips’ unfaded loveliness. 

I and my heart never saw May’s delight, 
only April’s immature slovenliness. 

Maria! 

One poet sings sonnets to Tiana^ 

while I, 

all human, 

flesh all the way, 

just beg for your body 

like Christians for manna: 

“Lord, give us 
our daily bread 
this day!” 

Maria, give! 

Maria! 

Your name I fear to forget 

as a poet fears 

to forget some word 

just found, not dry or discoloured yet, 

in its glory matching the glory of the lord. 


107 



Maria! 

Your body 
I’ll love and tend 
the way a soldier, 
stunted by war, 
cherishes his only leg; 

Nay, more! 

No? 

You don’t want to? 

Ha! 

So it means I’ll take up my heart once more 
and carry it, tear-sprayed, alone again, 
like a dog 

goes carrying its paw 
overrun by a train. 

I bless the road with my blood’s holy water. 

The roadside flowers kiss my garment’s shred. 

A thousand times will the sun — Herod’s daughter- 
dance round the globe — the Baptist’s head. 

And when it dances out to the ending 
the number of years for my life assigned, 
a trail of millions of blood-drops extending 
to the home of my father. I’ll leave behind. 

I’ll crawl from my grave, 
soiled with nights spent in ditches, 
bend over and say, 
hitching up my britches: 

Listen here, Mister Lord! 

Don’t you feel bored 
in the >elly of clouds 
daily dipping soft eyes? 

You know what — 

let’s set up a merry-go-round 

on the tree of knowledge of virtue and vice! 

Omnipresent, all bread-bins will be filled up with you 


108 



and we*ll put such wines on the table 

that St. Peter will ache to dance the ki-ka-poo, 

sighing for the times when he was still able. 

We’ll fill up Paradise with Eves once more; 
say the word, and this very night 
ril fetch the prettiest girls you ever saw 
from the Tverskoy boulevard — all right'* 

No? 

You waggle your head’s silver ringlets, 
scowl at me from above? 

You think that fellow behind you with the winglets 
knows anything about love? 

I’m an angel, too; used to be before, 
gazing with the look of an innocent iamb. 

But 1 won’t make gifts to mares any more 
of Sevres vases, damn! 

You invented this pair of hands, Almighty, 
made a head to be worn by every duffer. 

Then why don’t you let us kiss daily and nightly 
without ever having to suffer i* 

You — onmipotent.^ Deal out death and lifc.^ 

You’re just an ignoramus, a petty brute. 

Look — 1 bend down, 
pull a cobbler’s knife 
from inside the top of my boot. 

Let your feathers shiver in St. Vitus’ dance; 
crouch in heaven, 
lip-serving, 
wing-flapping rascals! 

I’ll rip you all up, stinking with incense, 
from here right down to Alaska! 

Let go! 

You won’t stop me. 

Whether I’m wrong 
or right 

I can’t be calmer and don’t think I ought to. 


109 



Look — 

the stars have again been beheaded, 
the sky 

all red with the blood of slaughter! 

Hey you, 
heavens, 

I’m coming, 
d’you hear? 

Take off youi hats, 
or. . . 


Silence. 

The Universe 
sleeps, its huge ear 
dotted with star-ticks 
laid on its paw. 


1914 1915 



I LOVE 

Usually So 

Love’s given to anyone born, I’ve noted, 

but between 

one’s business, 

income 

and so on, 

the heart gets coated 

with soil too crusty for love to grow on. 

The heart’s in the body, 
and that has the shirt on. 

But, as if it wasn’t enough, 

somebody — idiot ! — 

invents the shirtfront, 

claps his paps into starch for bluff. 

Old age comes on — 
she takes to make-up, 

while he looks to Miiller^^ to give him a shake-up. 
Too late! 

The wrinkles crop up all ai)oiit. 

Love sizzles 
and fizzles 

£Uld — 

goes out. 

As a Kid 

My love-gifts at birth were the average level. 

But another’s 

put to drudge from a kid. 

And I’d just bolt to the Rion^2 — 
sheer devil, 

load&ng around was all I did. 

Mother scolded: 
to death I’d drive her. 

Father: 

“My belt’ll teach him sense!” 

But I’d 

get hold of a phoney fiver 

and gamble with soldiers under a fence. 

Unburdened by footwear, 


111 



by shirt un trammeled 

I’d broil in the mad Kutaisi hctit, 

poking sunward 

first back 

then tummy 

until that tummy 

would ache to eat. 

The sun must have puzzled: 
“Scarce seen, the shrimp! 

Yet has his feelings, 
and quite acute. 

Wherever 

could there be room in the imp 

for me, 

river 

and mountains to boot?” 

As a Lad 


Arithmetic, grammar and suchlike lessons, 
they keep you busy in adolescence. 

I 

was kicked out of school 
at the fifth year’s turning, 
then chucked about jails, 
to go on learning. 

Poets are bred in your wee, snug world 
for bedrooms only, petted and curled. 

What good can be had from the lapdog lyrics? 

Me — 

I got taught 
to love 
in Butyrki."^*^ 

To moan that the Bois de Boulogne leaves me 

shaken? 


To sigh at views of the sea? 

Like hell! 

I fell in love with an undertaker’s 

through the eyehole of cell 103. 

You see the sun daily, 

turn up your chin 

“A fat lot of use, those rays!” 

And I 


for a sunspot 


112 



the size of a pin 
could have given worlds 
those days. 


My UnivcutUy 


You know your French? 

Distinguish clauses? 

Tell declinations? 

Well, go on telling ’em. 

But say — 

can you sing 

in tune with houses? 

Do you know the language 
the trams arc yelling in? 

The human chick, 
as soon as it hatches, 
gets textbooks and pads 
to fix its eye on. 

1 learned AB(J 
from signboaicls, 
by snatches, 
wading through pages 
of tin and iron. 

They take the earth, 

after pruning and ci opping, 

then study it, 

shrunk to a baby’s toy. 

i got my geography, nightly Hopping 

down on the ground from a boy. 

Grand issues split Ilovaisky’s'*'* head: 
“Barbarossa’s beard — 
was it ginger 
or red?” 

Much I care for the musty mystery! 

Moscow gossip — 
that’s all my history. 

They take Dobrolyubov^** (the more to hate evil) 
kinsfolk, genteel, howl “heretic, sinner!” 

I’ve hated fat bellies so I could kill them 

always 

selling 

myself for dinner. 


8—570 


113 



Once taught, 
you sit 

and be nice to a lady; 

thoughts 

drip sparely 

from pudd’nhead brain. 

I 

had only the buildings 
to aid me, 

only the pumphouses 
to entertain. 

They’d listen 
close, 

chimney and eave, 
eager to hear, 
quick 

to perceive. 

And then 

the weather-vane tongues 
would creak, 
handing over 
the news of the week. 

Grown-U p 

Grown-ups have their business, 
pockets with dough. 

Want love? 

Just pay up — 
a hundred or so. 

And I 

roamed homeless, 
eyes aglare, 
paws in pockets, 
all holes and air. 

Dressed in your best, 
you rest your soul 
on wives and widows 
as the nights draw over you. 

And me — 
all Moscow 

would burn me like coal 

in the vice-like hug of her endless Sadovaya.*"^ 


114 



Your mistresses’ heart-clock 
ticks soft and mild. 

For bedfellows — 

joy enough and to spare. 

But for me — 
a capital’s heart beat wild 

as I measured my length on Strastnaya Square.^^ 
Wide open — 

heart almost out in the air — 

to sunshine and puddle 1 laid myself bare. 

Gram me with passions, 
love and lust, 

no longer my heart can I rule or trust. 

In others’ I know where the heart’s abode is — 
it’s in the chest — beneath the pullover. 

And mine — 

mine’s one of those crazy bodies — 
one booming and thumping heart all over. 
Springtimes alone — all of 20 were there 
stuffed by the time into red-hot me. 

Their burden, 
unspent, 

was too much to bear, 
making me ache 
for love-to-be. 


7 he Outcome 

Bigger than dreamed by any romantic, 
a poet’s nightmare 
for size and weight, 

the heart-lump bulged till it got gigantic, 
gigantic in love and gigantic in hate. 

Under the burden my legs go bending, 

— and, you know. I’m pretty well built — 
yet I drag along, my own heart’s appendage, 
shoulders — a yard across — ^just wilt. 

Swollen with rhyme milk — no outlet for me. 
Brimming— yet still it wells up, darn! 

World lyric wet-nurse, — 
nothing before me 

my puny precursor by Maupassant.^ 


115 



I Call 


Heavc-Iio! I shouldered it, 
throbbing and thumping. 

In the manner strikers’ meetings are called, 

as they sound an alarm when there’s flames 

a- jumping, 

so I yelled out — 

it’s here! 

Take hold! 

When such a whopper, knuckles pocketed, 
stampeded, reckless, 
through mud and slush, 
off 

top-speed 

the petticoats rocketed; 

“We’d prefer something littler, 

softer. . . .” 

lush! 

So bore 1 my burden, though sure 1 couldn’t, 
glad to discard it, 
knowing 1 wouldn’t. 

The strain, 

it well-nigh busted the thorax. 

Ribs cried for merry 
all in a chorus. 


You 


Business-like, 
lie-ing at growl and grit, 
you sized me up at a glance — 
mere boy! 

Picked up that heart, 
dismayed not a whit, 
and set off playipg — a child with a toy. 

And ali- 
as if they’d witnessed a wonder — 
maidens and matrons, their horror displayed: 

“Love such a hulk? Why, he’s all blood and thunder 
Must be a bear-tamer — look, unafraid!” 

And me — I rejoiced — 
no load on my back. 


116 



All but mad with delight, 

I capered about like a newly-wed black, 
so jolly I felt, I felt so light. 

Impossible 


Alone 

I’d find a piano too heavy, 
and, of course, a steel sale too. 

So with safe and piano; 

then how, great heavens, 

could I carry my heait got back lioin you"^ 

Bankers know, 

“We’re rich without limit. 

Pockets filled up — 
use a safe — safer in it.” 

My love hid in you like wealth in steel, 
happy-go-lucky, like Croesus I feel. 

Just at times, 

if I’m short of delight, 

I might 

take a smile, half a smile or so in that range 
and spend on a spree with friends in a night 
a handful or two of lyric small change. 

*rhe Same with Me 

Fleets — even fleets sail back to shore. 

Trains — even trains pull in at their station. 

Well, and I — I’m pulled all the more, 
pulled to you by sheer adoration. 

Down to his vault goes Pushkin’s knight’^ 
to gloat over treasure by candle-light. 

So I come back to you, my beloved — 
my heart’s own strong-box — to cherish and love it. 
Men come home happy, 
dirt and stubble 

removed with the help of soap and razor. 

You — you are my home. I come and just bubble 
over with joy — 
so bright those days are. 


Allu&ion to 1 he Covetous Knight by Pushkin. — Tr. 


117 



Earthlings return to the earth, 
their mother, 
the end 

of the way on which we’re started. 

So I’m drawn back to you and no other 
as soon as I go, the minute we’ve parted. 


Summaiy 


No miles, 
no quarrels 
can blot out love, 
tested, 
thought out 
all through. 

With rhyme-fingered verse in oath raised above 
I swear I love you, unswerving and true. 


1922 



ir 


For Her and Me 

WHAr ITS ABOUT 

In this theme, 

both private and trivial, 
sung time and again 

before 

I’ve spun round 

like a sort of poetical squirrel 

and now 

want to spin once more. 

This theme 

sounds today 

in a Buddhist’s prayer, 
makes a boss-hating Negro 

whet his knife. 

On Mars, 

if there’s anyone man-hearted there, 

he, too, 

must be scraping 

with his pen all his life. 

This theme will come 

to a limbless cripple, 

grab his shoulders 

and stick a pencil in his teeth, 
shove his nose to a notebook 

and order: 

“Scribble!” 

and he’ll eagle up, 

leaving the world beneath. 

It’s a theme that’ll come, 

ring the backdoor bell, 

poke its nose in, 

then vanish again like a ghost, 
and, giant or dwarf, 

all your thoughts go pell-mell 
and you drown in a rippling ocean of notes. 

It’s a theme that’ll come 

and demand: 

“The Truth!” 


119 



It’s a theme that’ll come 

and order: “Beauty!” 

And, 

though nailed to the cross, 

you forget your ruth, 

a waltz-tune 

or something 

absently tooting. 

Let that theme 

louch the ali>habet 

as it rolls — 

a thing 

clear enough 

for the thickest head — 

and A becomes 

as remote as the poles 
and you’re dazed — 

you forget about sleep and bread. 
It’s a theme that comes 

and never grows old, 
never goes out of sight, 

so without a word 
you become a standard-bearer 

to hold 

a red flame of silk 

high over the world. 

It’s a crafty old theme — 

dives under events; 

preparing to leap, 

among instincts it hides, 

then 

“How dare you forget?” 

incensed, 

shakes our souls 

right out of our hides. 

With a growling demand: 

“Hand over the reins! ’ 

that theme 

on my door 

one day came battering, 

commented crossly 

on my dried-out brains 


120 



and, enraged, 

sent affairs and acquaintances scattering. 
That theme came along, 

made all others remote, 

and alone 

assumed 

undivided preeminent c. 

It giipped me, that theme, 

like d thug, 

hy Ihc throat, 

like a hlacksmith 

it harnmeicd 

from heait to temples. 

That theme 

blacked out days 

and bade: “Ram with your rhyme 
at the darkness around, 

beneath 

and above.” 

The name of that theme, 

supieme and sublime: 



BALLAD OF READING GAOL 


I remember 
standing 

cm the brink cjI this glittci. 

'I'hen 

it was culled 
the Neva. 

(V. Mayakovsky, Mrifi) 


My bfillad 
and ballad s 
in general 


The fashion for ballads 

is far from young. 
But when words from the heart are wrung 
by the pain 

with which that heart has been stung 
then ballads are young enough 

to be sung. 

Lubyansky Drive.^ 

Vodopyany Lane.^^ 

Imagine the scene 

if you’re able, 

She’s in bed. 

Lying awake. 

He- 
at the telephone, 

by the table. 

My ballad’s subject 

is “He and She”. 

Not so awfully new, 

I agree. 

The awful thing is 

that I am that “He” 

and that she 

has to do 

with me. 

What’s this talk about jail? 

Christmas. 

All hail. 

No bars 

to bar 

the light. 

That doesn’t concern you. 

I say it’s jail. 


122 



Call numhn 
put through 
the cable 


A table. 

Across it — 

a straw pulled tight. 

I touch it to listen: 

there — a blister! 

The receiver flies from my hand. 

The trade-mark arrows**" begin to glisten 
and lightning-like 

whirl round the telephone-stand. 
From next- doors 

comes the comment, 

drowsy, 

vexed: 


“Where’s it come from — 

a real live piglet? 

What next?” 


The bell’s already 

squealing with burns. 

The telephone set’s 

white-hot. 

She’s ill! 

Dying! 

Go rescue her! 

Out! 

Quicker! 

By God! 

My flesh is smoking. 

I can’t stop the sizzling. 

Lightnings 

all over my body 


A million volts! 


race. 


Things do look grisly 

as I poke my lip 

at the telephone blaze. 

Drilling 

holes 

in the house’s timber, 
making the cable twist and curl, 
Bullet-like, speeds the number 


The trade mark on telephones those days were two broken arrows, 
crossed. — Tr. 


123 



I scr - 

f the c.ii ih 

lii's ha 1C loday- 

nolliini; hiii j iiiii'j 

sl.iniliim aboiiL — 
UIkIcI hllllOMKS ()| ni})l)lc 

!)i<iileti awjy 

(lie ( .oinmuiu' s 

‘'kmI c<lil)(( 


.sfails lo sprout. 

lint'! 





down 

to the telephone-girl. 

The girl’s eye squints at the switchboard wonkily. 
Holiday tomorrow; 

yet work like a donkey. 

Then — 


all of a sudden 


the red light goes on; 

ling-aAing! 

goes the bell 

and the light is gone. 


Suddenly 

the lamps go crazy again: 

Jitters 

the telephone network 

seize: 


“ 67 - 10 ! 

Connect me please.” 

“Quick!” 

“Vodopyany? 

Hullo! 

That you?” 


Phew! 

No joking with electric installations. 

To be blown up 

on Christmas Eve 

too, 

together with the telephone station! 

There lived 

an old-timer 

in Myasnitskaya Street;'*^ 

ever since then 

all 1^ did was repeat 

the story 

to grandchildren wiUing to hear, 
and surely it did sound queer. 

“I was out 

to buy ham — 

cheap, if I could; 
then it rattled like thunder — 

earthquake, 

or what? 


126 



You could hardly stand — 

no grip underfoot. 

Shoe-soles burned — 


the ground was so hot.” 

“Go on, old man! 

It can’t be, you know. 


7he An earthquake? In winter? At the G.P.O.?” 
telephone Squeezing by a miracle 
runs amuc t through the hair-breadth cord, 

stretching the ear-piece 

into a gaping maw, 

crushing the silence, 

the phone-bell roared 
in an avalanche of bell-peals 

from floor to floor. 

The screaming, 

deafening hell-bell 

pounced 

at the walls 

which were shattered beyond repair. 
Then in millions of echoes 

from the walls it bounced, 

scattering 

under bed and chair. 

From ceiling to floor 

the monster-bell crashed 

and again, 

like an out-size ball, 
clanging crazily, 

upwards it dashed, 
again in tinkling splinters to fall. 

Windows and chandeliers, 

pot and kettle 

joined in unison with the clangour, 
shaking the house 

like a baby-rattle, 
the phone-bell raved 

‘ like a belfry in anger. 

'The second Puffy from sleep, 

her dots of eyes 
poking their pinpoints 

through brick-red checks, 


127 



cook 

makes a half-hearted effort 

to rise, 

waddles to the phone 

and sniffling, speaks: 

“Washa mean? 

Vladim Vladimich? 

Washa. . .?” 

Unaccustomed attempts at understanding 

squash her 

face into a semblance of a dried-up apple; 
she trundles off, 

with her slippers flapping. 

She goes like a second 

counting off strides; 
her footsteps sound farther, 

hardly pattering. 

All the rest of the world 

into nothingness slides; 

the Unknown 

alone 

aims the telephone at me. 

'I he ivoihl Speakeis at every conference and congress, 
clean interrupting unfinished gestures in mid-air, 
froze 

and, agape, 

at the most incongruous 
and ghastliest of Christmases 

turned their stare. 

They see life only from scandal to row, 
their homes 

one endless 

hum-drum morass. 

Waiting for the mortal duel, 


now 

they gaped at me, 

their own looking-glass. 

. Automobile horns 

were petrified; 
all sounds hushed up 

through the world’s length and breadth; 
nothing but the duel 

and Doctor Time 


128 



7 he duel 


with the boundless bandage 

of all-healing Death 

Moscow. 

Beyond it 

the fields lie motionless. 

Seas 

and behind them the mountains stride. 

All the universe seen 

through binoculars, 

gigantic binoculars 

(from the wrong side). 

The horizon straightened, 

level as can be, 

a cord 

taut as strings are 

in hai psichords, 

one phone in my room 

connecting me 

with the other 

with you 

in yours. 

In between 

with a look 

never dreamed of in verse 

grand, 

as if proud of its new white livery, 
the Myasnitskaya cut 

through the universe, 

a miniature 

out of carven ivory. 

Clarity. 

Torture by transparentest clarity. 
Under the Myasnitskaya 

a cable like a thread, 

and everything hangs 

on that hadr-thin rarity 

artistically inlaid 

in the street’s white bed. 

One. 

The phone’s raised. 

If hope had been 


570 


129 



it’s gone now. 


Two! 

Unerringly aiming 
the telephone muzzle 

points between 


my eyes 

half-begging and half-complaining. 

I feel I could yell 

at the slow-moving bitch. 

Can’t you move faster.^ 

Don’t stand like Dantes.^^ 

Quick, shoot through the cable. 

Now what’s the hitch? 

At least 

this torture 

could last a bit less. 

More terrible than bullets, 

the cable swelling, 

dropped by the cook 

between two yawns, 
like a swallowed rabbit 

in a python’s belly 

from there to me 

a dread word crawls. 

And dreader than words, 

from times immemorial 

when male won female 

by rule of might, 

out of the cord 

came jealousy crawling, 
a cave-dwelling monster, 

a troglodyte. 

And yet, perhaps. . . . 

Not perhaps but of course 
nothing crawled from the cord 

to test my fettle, 

and there weren’t any troglodytes’ faces 

or claws — 

just myself in the telephone-^ 

mirrored in its metal. 

There now, VTsIK,^ 

go and issue your circulars, 

try and check the truth of these facts against Ehrfurt’s.^^ 


150 



What 

can habben 
to a fellow 


liearification 


Through the first pangs of pain, 

wild and ridiculous, 

a beast scrapes his way, 

despite the brain’s efforts. 

Beautiful sight! 

Comrades, 

try and digest it! 

I, 

this summer in Paris due, 
a poet 

and respectable correspondent of Izvestia 
scratching the chair 

with a claw through my shoe! 
In yesterday’s human 

at one go 

fangs cut through 

and, 

a bear, 

I bare them. 


Tufts of hair 


from iHy jacket grow. 

Roaring into phones — 

is that all you know? 

Off to the Arctic 

to join your brethren! 


A bear 


driven 

to deadly wrath, 

I charge at the phone, 

turned foe from intimate. 
While the trade-mark spear 

drills its fatal path 

through my heart, 

plunging deeper and deeper into it. 

It pours: 

copper-red torrents fall. 

Lap up the growls and blood, 

my dark flat! 

I don’t know for sure 


whether bears cry at all 


but if they do, 

it must be like that. 


131 



Exactly so; 

no one, falsely compassionate 
to watch them, 

all through the valley they squall, 

and exactly so 

their bear-neighbour Balshin 

wakes up 

and grumbles behind the wall. 

Exactly so 

I picture a bear; 
motionless, 

face turned up, 

he roars, 

howls himself out, 

then repairs to his lair 

clawing the walls 

with all twenty claws. 

Leaves come down in a shower — 

he’s frightened, 


thinks gunshots 

are starting to crash through the skies 


Yes, 

only bears can sec such nightmares 
through tears and fur 

fuzzying their eyes. 


My room 
leaks 


Abed. 


Bars of iron. 


The blanket threadbare. 
The bear lies in irons. 

A numb, half-dead bear. 


A shudder begins 

and runs through the iron, 

rippling 

through the bedclothes I lie on. 
Water chills my foot wit}i its touch. 

Water? 

Where from 

and why so much? 

It’s I myself crying. 

Cry-baby, 

fool! 


132 



Rubbish. 


Nobody 


Damned bath! 


could cry such a pool. 


There’s water behind the sofa; 


under the table 


and wardrobe 


From behind the sofa. 


it creeps. 


out of the window 


turning over and over 


In the fireplace 


my suitcase sweeps. 


a fag-end — 

chucked it there myself— 

got to stamp it out. 

But it’s flaring up, dash it. 

What? 

Fireplace? 

No fireplace! — 

help!— 

just a bank — 

miles away 

with bonfires flashing. 

All’s been washed out — 

even the odour 
of cabbage from the kitchen, 


sour and rank. 


Emptiness. 


Only a river. 


broader 


and broader. 

Far off— 

the opposite bank. 

The wind from the Ladoga 

plays its fiddle. 

The river^s all goose-skinned 

because of the chill, 

with me, 

a white bear, 

on a floe in the middle. 


133 



Not a soul. 

Not a sound. 

All’s dismal, 

still. 


The icefloe I’m on, 

it used to be a pillow. 
Away run the banks, 

view upon view. 

The wind goes raising 

billow after billow. 
And away with the wind 

sails my pillow, 

too. 


Feverish, 

on my pillow-floe 

I float. 

Only one sensation’s not washed away: 
I’ve got to pass under something — 

what — 


my bed or a bridge — 

I cannot say. 

I’ve been through this once, 

years before. 

Whether bear or not, 

I begin to roar. 

I, the wind, this river? 

Not this one?! 


A minute or more 

I remain in doubt. 

Yes, 

I recall how it used to glisten. 

Back! 

But the river 

won’t let the raft out. 

Closer and closer, 

clearer and clearer, 
the same old scene begins to appear. 

He (I) on the bridge — 

nearer and nearer. 

No going back now. 

He’ll bel 

He’s here! I! 


1S4 



The man from There, 

the waves at its steel feet dancing, 
motionless, 

fearsome and mighty in span, 

in the city 

built of despair 

by my fancy 

on its hundred-storey supports 

it stands. 


With its embroidery 

of trellised girders, 

in the sky’s domain 

the bridge intervenes. 

I shift my eyes 

further and further. 

There, there 

on the iron railings he leans. 

Pardon, Neva! 

No, it drives me back. 

Have pity! 

No, it won’t lift its ban. 

There, 

chained by myself to the bridge’s rack 
on the sky’s flaming background 

stands that man. 

his hair unkempt — 

never cut it, I reckon. 

I paw at my ears — 

in vain, of course — 

it continues, 

my own, 

my own voice’s echo — 
the knife of my voice 

cuts my ears through my paws. 
My very own voice: 

I can hear it beg; 

Vladimir, 

stop! 

Don’t go off and leave me! 


135 



Why didn’t you let me dash down then and wreck 
my heart on the buttresses — 

that would relieve me. 


Seven years 

I stand here and gaze at the river, 
strapped to the bridge 

by your verses’ wire. 

For seven long years 

the river’s eyes drill me. 

Say, 

when does my term up here expire? 

Perhaps you’re worming your way into their caste? 
Kissing? 

Guzzling? 

Grown one of those paunches? 

Want 

a bit of their pie to taste? 

Begging for it 

upon your haunches? 

Don’t think, 

the spectre’s hand motioned downwards, 

menacingly, 

at the river’s depth; 
don’t think of escape! 

It’s I that have summoned you; 
I’ll find you anywhere, 

hound you to death! 

There’s a holiday in town. 

I can hear the noise of it. 


So tell them to come, 

the holiday marchers. 


Let an act be adopted 

by the city Soviet 

to confiscate, 

abrogate my tortures, 
till down this wide 

and deep-flowing river 

Love 

the saviour, 


comes 

and my spirit arouses. 



You’re doomed, too, to wander. 

You won’t be loved either. 


Just paddle 

and crash 

on the reefs of houses. 


Help! 

Stop, pillow! 

In vain, though, 

were all my efforts 

I paddled with my paw, 

a sorry oar. 

The river was as relentless as ever: 
downstream 

my pillow-icefloe 

it bore. 

Already Tm far, 

maybe a day 
from my shadow there, 

at the bridge’s rails. 

Yet his voice — 

it pursues me 

all the way, 

throaty menaces 

Ailing its sails. 

You think you’ll forget 

the sparkle of the river? 
Replace it by something? 

Try if you can. 

Till death you’ll remember the quiver 
that ran through the poem Man. 

I begin to shout. 

Cover that yell? 

A booming storm — 

out-shout it if you can. 

Somebody, help! 

Help. . . . 

Help. . . . 

Help!. . . 

There, 

on the riverbridge, 

stands 

a man! 


J37 



II 


CHRISTMAS EVE 


Fantastic 

reality 


The banks flit past, 

view after view. 

Beneath me rocks 

the pillow of ice. 
The wind from the Ladoga howls: 

while onward 

the ice-raft flies. 


whoo-hoo 


s.o.s. 

I signal with a word-lit flare. 
The river ends, 

grows into a sea. 

S.O.S.! 

my call 

pierces the air 


like 

a thundering 

battery. 

It grows 

into a giant square, 
the pillow-island 

that’s under me. 
The sound of the waves 


grows soft and low. 


dying down 

after a while. 

No seas any more. 

I’m on the snow. 
Dry land all around — 

mile upon mile. 


They call it dry, 

but the snow’s wet, 

half-thawed. 


I’m caught 

by a vicious 

snow-band. 

I cudgel my brains: 

what land is it, lord: 


1S8 



Green-, 

Lap-, 

or Love-land? 

Affony From a cloud 
of awakening moon-melon, 

ripening, falls. 

Things sort themselves out, 

get clearer a bit. 

Petrovsky Park. 

Behind me unrolls 

the Khodynka; 

ahead — 

the Tverskaya’s^® white sheet- 

0-o-oh! 

to the Sadovaya 

reaches my “oh!” 

Knocked down by a car 

or by horses, 

my mug’s yard-deep in the snow. 

Bullet-like, 

follow curses: 

“Blind with the NEP? 

Where’s your eyes? 

Nep your mother, 

can’t you watch your step, 
you bloody ass in disguise?” 

Ah yes — 

I’m a bear. 

No wonder they swear. 

Pretty fix, isn’t it? 

How to explain 

who I was, 

who I am, 

how and what I became? 

Saviour There comes 

a wee little man from the comer, 
bigger and bigger 

every minute. 

Moonshine sits on his head like an aura. 
Quick, 

get a boat 

and bring him in it. 


1S9 



Gypsified 

song 


The Saviour — that’s it! 

Looks like Jesus — 

his grace. 


calm and kind, 

crowned with the moon. 


He approaches. 

There’s no moustache on his face! 
Not Jesus at all. 

Younger, softer. 

Soon 


he’s closer. 

Komsomol features displaying, 
hatless and coatless. 

Puttees and khaki. 
Now folding his hands, 

as if 

he’s praying, 


now, 

as if in a speech 

the void air hacking. 

Woolly snow. 

The boy, he walked on wool. 

Gilded wool. 

And now the trite old picture’s full. 
So sad and snivelly — 

just sobbing all along — 
you feel you’ll slobber 

in a gypsified old song. 

On he walked, 

eyes to the sunset glued. 

The sunset 

was the yellowest of yellow. 

The very snow was somewhat yellow-hued; 

with eyes unseeing, on he went, poor fellow. 

Then stopped 

stock still, 

arms’ steel 

in silk.^ 

The sunset for an hour 

stayed focussed to a point, 


In 1914-17 Mayakovsky went about in a yellow silk 
blouse. 


140 



No option 


and watched the shadow-streak 

he left behind. 


The snow kept crunching — 

breaking someone’s joints. 

Whose joints.'^ 

What for? 

What reason could it find? 
The wind, rude burglar, 

searched the boy all round 


and read the note 

that in his clothes it found 
to all Petrovsky Park — 

aloud and without shame: 


“Good bye. . . . 

Tve had enough. . . . 

There’s nobody to blame. . . 


Could anyone be 
so much like me? 

Awful. 

But there — 

I dash to the puddle 
to pull off the jacket, 

all blood and tears. 


Ah well! 

That other’s in a deadlier muddle, 
watching it all from his bridge seven years. 

I pulled on the jacket — 

tight — hard to get in; 

then shaved the growth 

from my cheeks and chin. 
The soap wouldn’t lather — 

so my jaw went jumping; 

my mirror — an iceblock, 

my razor — a sunbeam. 

Almost the same as him 

by my look 


I run, 

in my mind revolving addresses. 

First to the Presnya,^^ 

to the family nook 

instinct drives me — 

yeah, that’s where the place is. 


141 



Everyone s 
parents 


After me, 

into the distance fading, 
all-Russian sons and daughters come parading. 
“Volodya! Bless us! 

Come here for Christmas!?” 

Corridor darkness. 

Room electricity. 

Instantly 

relatives’ faces go crooked. 

“Volodya! 

Good heavens! 

What is it, eh? 

Your coat’s all red. 

Your collar! 

Look at it!” 

“Don’t mind it. Mummy. 

I’ll wash it in tears. 

There’s plenty at home. 

All over the place. 

Not that it matters. 

Darlings, dears! 

You love me, don’t you? 

You love me, yes? 

Then listen, 

Mother, 

sisters. 

Aunt. 

Switch off the Christmas tree. 

Lock the door. 

I’ll take you. . . . 

You’ll go with me 

No, you can't 

put it off. 

You’re going. 

Immediately, 

all four. 

It isn’t so far at all — 


why, 

just six hundred versts^ — 

mere child’s play. 
We’ll all be there in the twinkling of an eye. 
He’s waiting. 

We’ll board a tram straightaway.” 


142 



“Volodya, calm down, dear!” 

But I, a bit rough, 

out-yell 

the familial squealing. 

“So that’s your way? 

Tea instead of love? 

Sock-darning 

instead of feeling?” 

7 ravelling I don’t mean just you, 

with mother j^y dear Mother; 

the whole world’s obsessed 

with family fervour. 

See there — 

the ship’s masts 

bristling like sedge; 

it’s Germany, 

split by the Oder’s wedge. 

We’re over Stettin, 

engines whirring. 

Next stop, Mummy, 

and we’re in Berlin. 

The plane purrs on, 

all tense and eager: 

Paris — 

America — 

Brooklyn Bridge; 

The Scihara. 

A curly Negress and Negro 

sip tea — 

a family too, black as pitch. 
Featherbeds will squash 

both willpower and stone, 
the Commune will turn 

into comfy bunkum. 

For centuries 

men tucked their life into home. 

Today too, 

you’re cosy again with your domkom.^^ 
October’s 

storm of judgement 

is behind. 

And now, 

in the shade of its fiery wing, 


145 



Mirages on 
the Presnya 


you set out your china, 

hang up your blinds, 


fire-proof, 

emotion-proof, 

proof to heart-sting. 


Vanish, home! 

Fireplace and birthplace, 

farewell! 

I fling all ties 

to the dickens. 

What’s family in my predicament? 

Worthless! 


Chicken-love, 

fit for children and chickens. 

I run on and see: 

in everyone’s presence 
down the Kudrinskaya,^ 

blithe and bland, 

my own sweet self, 

coming loaded with presents 

under my arms 

and in either hand. 

Its masts strained taut in the storm 

like crosses, 

all ballast overboard 

my ship tosses. 

Ten times be confounded, 

emptied-out lightness! 

Far houses 

bare fangs 

of a chalk-cliff whiteness. 

No crowd, 


no square — 

the silence is utter. 
Silence reigns supreme everywhere. 

Only snow all aroimd, 

and through the shutters 
the lighted candles on Christmas trees flare. 

I slow down, 

putting brakes on my toes. 

Walls loom tall, 

with windows in rows. 


144 



Fyokla 
Davidovnas 
husband, 
myself 
and all the 
acquaintances 


People’s shadows like targets 

in shooting ranges 

bob in the windows, 

luring in strangers. 

Chilled through, 

eyes fixed on the Neva, 
he stands and waits for aid. . . . 

Across the threshold — 

door ajar — 

I throw my foot 

come what may. 

In the passage 

a drunkard, 

airing delirium, 

suddenly sobered 

and ran for it, 

bleary. 

Then the whole assemblage 

proceeded to blare; 

“Bear! BEAR! BEAR! 

Twisting his face 

into a question mark, 

the host 

poked out half an eye 

with the bark: 


“Well-well, Mayakovsky — 

bear indeed!” 

All the bitter-sour faces 

turned honey-sweet. 

“Gome in, 

you’re welcome,” 

he led the way. 

“A pleasant surprise,®^ 

as Blok used to say. 
Meet Fyokla Davidovna, 

my wife. 

An’ this 


is my daughter, 

our seventeen-year-old Miss. 

And this 

is so-and-so. 

I believe you’ve met,” 


10—570 


145 



the host went on, 

true to etiquette. 

Card-partners 

who’d slipped into mouseholes from dread, 
still holding their cards 

crawled from under the bed. 

With whiskers on end, 

stuck up towards the ceiling 

from under the table 

crawled booze-mates, reeling. 

And from under the wardrobe — 

admirers, readers, 

all the faceless populace. Name them? Needless! 

They come and they come in timid infinity, 
their beards with domestic cobwebs glinting. 

Age upon age, 

the same old sludge: 

unwhipped, 

domesticity’s mare won’t budge. 

In place of a 

guardian angel*^^ there stood, 
their lodger in jodhpurs; 

so far, so good. 

But what was most awful, 

in height, 

in skin, 

in clothes, 

in gait, 

in eyes 

in one of them, 

like as a pin, 

myself 

I recognised. 

From matresses 

long deserving a beating 

bedbugs 

raised their forelegs 

in greeting. 

The samovar beamed 

with its brazen face, 
holding its handles out 

to embrace. 


146 



All 

the things 

danced attendance around me. 

The fly-blown garlands 

from the wallpaper crowned me. 

Angels 

played 

a flourish on their horns, 

peeping, 

pink, 

from the icons’ sheen. 

Jesus, 

lifting his crown of thorns, 
bowed, 

polite and suavely serene. 

Marx himself, 

in his red frame harnessed 

with the rest 

hauled the philistine cart 

in dead earnest. 

Canaries 

began to sing from their perches, 
geraniums 

with their fragrances smote us. 

Posing diligently, 

squatting, virtuous, 

grandmothers 

hospitably 

leered from their photos. 

All bowed and nodded — 

courteous, very! 

And in booming basses 

and psalm-singing discants: 

Merry Christmas! 

Merry Christmas! 

Mer-ry 

Christmas! 

The host paws the armchairs, 

with puff and blow 

himself clears the tablecloth 

of the last wee breadcrumb. 

“If I’d known. ... 

I thought you’d be home with your own; 




147 



Senseless 

requests 



lumbering on 

through the woods on all fours. 

My home? 

There isn’t any home I know. 

My home? 

Home? 

No! 

I floated away from it 

hours ago, 

down the Neva 
on a pillow-floe. 

My home now 
is ice 

all stark and bare, 
not very nice, 

but there 

I varied my words, 

now most oratorial, 
now tinkling lyricsome, 

now frightfully roaring, 

from benefits 


begging, 


turning to glory eternal, 
threatening, 

agitating, 

imploring. 


“My verse is for all, see? 

for you yourselves. 

Say, Mystery-^Bouffe ^ — 


not for my own pleasure. 


148 



Poetry’s 

not just to stack on shelves. 

All-important — 

no freak-child of day-dreaming leisure. 

Say, 

perhaps I’m a bear, 

to put it roughly, 

but my poetry — 

flay me 

and take it — 

my hide. 

With a lining of rhymes — 

there’s a coat for you, 

lovely!” 

Then 

sipping tea 

at the fire, side-by-side: 

“It’s a trifle — 

ten minutes, no more 

by boat. 

But it must be now, 

else it might be too late. 

P’raps a pat on the shoulder: 

‘Don’t lose hope!’ 

It’s urgent, I tell you, 

it can’t be delayed.” 

Rolling breadballs, 

in courteous mockery 

they listen, 

smiling, 

to the eminent buffoon. 

My words bounced like peas 

from foreheads and crockery, 
till one drank himself maudlin 

and started to croon: 

“Wait a minute. . . 

I know which is which. 

It’s easy as toffee — 

c’mon, ol’ hoss! 

I’m going — 


you say 


he waits on a bridge? 

149 



I know — 

it’s the comer of Kuznetsky Most. 

Lemme go, 

you hear — 

lemme. . . 

listen. . . .” 

“He’s sizzled! 

the wine-soaked table 

went hissing. 

Dammit, 

don’t whine. 

Better have 

some wine. 

S’pose that’s fixed? 

Now back to 66!**" 

To hell with theory — 
it’s practice, this NEP! 

Your glass, futurist, 
show us some pep!” 

Undaunted by the imminent threat to their jaws, 
they set off champing 

with hee-hces and haw-haws. 
Belched between glasses, 

poetic discussions 
from their artesian throats 

came gushing. 

“Good night!” said the bedbugs 

and went back to sleep. 

Age-old dust 

resettled on things, inch deep. 

While he 

still stood 

to the railings nailed, 

believing, 

waiting, 

hoping: 

soon! 

So I with my word-rams 

again assailed 

the wall of domestic welfare, 

goon. 


Popular card-game. 


150 



Again I attacked 

both this way and that. 

But strangely, 

the words went through, 

and fell flat. 

Extraordinary My bass hushes down 

^verUs iq a mosquito-trill. 

Once again 

empty, 

the china gets still. 

Drowning in greys, 

into etchings wrinkling, 
walls and wallpaper 

fade and fade. 

Spreading from the walls to the city, 

Boecklin^'* 

etched out Moscow 

in an island of the dead. 

It’s been long, 

long since, 

all the more so 


now; 

quite simple, 

simple as anything. 

There in his boat, 

cerements round his torso, 

sits the Ferryman, 

numb as a mannequin. 

The fields look like seas — 

which is which, you wonder. 

Every whisper 

silence has er£ised. 

The skeletal poplars, 

painted yonder, 

their deadness 

towards the heavens raise. 

All right. 

I stepped out 

and the poplars stirred 

into motion, 

marching without a word. 

Calm and quiet, 


an impressive sight, 
151 



they’ve turned into watchmen, 

militiamen of the night. 

White Charon, 

splitting in four 

at one go 

turns into the columns 

of the G.P.O. 

No escape So murderers burst 

into people’s sleep, 

splitting 

sleepy 

heads 

at one sweep, 
and everything vanishes 

out of those heads 
with the first sight of axes 

glimpsed over beds. 

So the streets’ drums 

break up sleep with their roll 

and straightaway 

you recall 
that here’s despair 

and there’s the wall 

and beyond it 

she 

who’s to blame for it all. 
Covering the windows with the corner’s palm, 

I pulled out 

sideways 

pane after pane. 

I’ve staked all my life 

on these window-cards. 

Just overdraw 

and I lose again. 

Night, the sharper, 

deals out hallucinations 

marking the glass 

with merriment’s light. 

The pack of windows 

glares, 

audacious, 

from the scurrilous hold of swindler-night. 


152 



Friends 


to be able, as before, 

to fly 

on rhyme-wings 

right through the window-pane! 

But no — 

just cling to the wall’s damp slime: 
neither my rhyme 

nor the time’s the same. 

The wall-stone numbs, 

as chilly as the grave. 

Brooms here, it seems, 

neglect their chores. 

On my bare feet, 

feeling far from brave, 

I climb the spittle-smeared porch. 

The chain of heartache 

will not break off, 

clamping 

new link 

to new link. 


Thus, 

after killing, 

Raskolnikov^ 
went up the steps to ring. 

The guest-crowd’s filing up the stairs; 

I jump off the steps 

and float mid-airs, 

flattening myself 

against the wall, 

and then I hear 

the guitar-strings’ call. 

Maybe she simply 

sat down to play 

for the guests, 

the public, 

so to say. 

And her fingers, 

driven by sheer despair, 

mocking grief, 

picked this rollicking air? 

And those ravens, the guests! 

The crazy door-wing 


153 



strikes the passage wall, 

grazing and bruising it. 

A maelstrom of guffaws, 

an avalanche of roaring 
came staggering down to me, 

stumbling boozily. 

Light appears through a crack: 
whispers come from the back. 

“Annushka, just turn round! 

I say, 

aren’t you a red-cheeked peach today!” 

Over in the oven pastry smoulders. 

He helps her with her coat, 

slips it off her shoulders. 

The one-step tempo 

deadens the words, 
yet some of them tear 

through the one-stepping herd 
“What’s there so funny?” 

she asks. 

“What? Where?” 

“Oh no, you don’t say!” 

“You want me to swear?” 


A gap— 


its words 


then a new phrase 

blares out in a burst, 


unintelligible at first, 
just gossip, 

(not really out of spite) : 

“You know, a bloke broke a leg here today. 
And we — we’re having some fun 

tonight; 


dancing — 

thank God — 


in our own small way.” 

Yes, 

it’s^ their voices. 

I’ve no more doubt. 

In dumb recognition 

I freeze into stone. 

From the hubbub I make 

whole sentences out. 


154 



Anyone, 
hut not you 


yes, it’s they 

and it’s me they mean, 

me alone. 


“Broke his leg, you say? 

Oh my, what a scream.’' 

And again goes clinking 

toast after toast; 


glass-lit sparks 

hit the cheeks 


And again the drunken, 


of guest and host. 
“Oh, goodness me. 


so you say 

he just split in two? 

Tee-hee!” 

“No, I must disappoint you, 

he didn’t quite split. 

Oh no, 

poor fellow — 

just cracked a bit.” 

And again the cackling 

and the slamming of doors, 
and again the one-step 

shuffling on floors. 

And again the walls 

like a blistering steppe 

sigh and ring 

with the damned two-step. 

Let life be ground 

into one long nightmare, 

let it get going 

from bad to worse, 
anything, anything, God almighty, 
but not that unbearable voice of hers! 

Days and years 

I’ve betrayed 

to humdrum tedium, 

got myself choked 

with the daily delirium. 

It ate out 

my life 

with domestic fumes. 


155 



and urged me to jump down to hell 

from my rooms. 

I fled from the yawning window’s lure, 
fled to love, 

though not all of me fled, 

to be sure. 

Let it be but in verse, 

in pacing the dark: 

when you scribble, 

your soul lies bare and stark, 
and your love becomes verse, 

while in prose you are dumb. 

No, I couldn’t speak out. 

But, darling, come, 

say, where in my songs 

was I false to my love? 

Never — 

they weren’t of such fickle stuff. 

Every word 

confessed and appealed 

all along; 

but — 

not a word can be dropped from a song. 

I’ll run in 

amid the guitar trills and gamuts, 
my both eyes 

levelled point-blank 

at the targets, 

boaisting two legs — 

as firm as a mammoth’s, 

“Stay where you are, 

you blinking maggots. 

I’m whole!’’ Then to her, 

“See, 

love, even here 

shattering their humdrum hell with my verses 
I spare the name that I hold most dear, 
bypassing you in my curses. 

Come, love, 

respond to the poem’s despair. 

I’ve been appealing to all I knew: 

Quick! To the bridge! No time to spare! 

And now the one last hope is you. 


156 



Strides of rhyme 


My neck 

like a bull's 

bowed to meet the blow, 
I’ll drive myself out where I ought to. 
Another second 

and out I’ll go, 

a volunteer — 

come what may — 

for slaughter. 

That very last second, 

the last before — 

that second 

became a beginning, 
the beginning 

of an incredible roar. 

All the North 

joined in 

in the dinning. 

By the quiver 

as if 

from a far-off fan, 

I can guess — 

it’s somewhere over Lyuban.^ 
By the flapping door, 

by the chilling air, 

I feel— 

it’s somewhere round about Tver.^^ 
By the windows 

burst ajar from the din 

I know — 

it’s tearing along to Klin.^ 

Now 

Razumovskoye’s^^ under its blast. 

And now — 


Nikolaevsky Station,®® the last. 
Though only a breath 

and nothing else, 
the steps on which I was standing 

foundered, 


turned into rocking, 


swerving hells 

with foam from the raging Neva surrounded. 


157 



The terror’s come, 

it’s filling my brain, 
it tightens my nerves 

with a jolt. 


Bigger and bigger 

becomes the strain 
then explodes and nails me: 

Halt! 


I’ve come here 

from seven years ago, 
from six hundred versts 


U 


away. 

I’ve come all that way 

to command you: 

“No! 


Leave off!” 

I’ve come here to stay. 

Leave off! 

No need for talking and pleading. 
It’s ridiculous — 


you alone succeeding. 

What I ache for’s 

the whole loveless world to be happy, 
to be joined in a planet- wide human mass. 

Seven years 

I’ve been waiting for that to happen, 
and I’ll stand on, 

nailed here, 

as centuries pass, 

on the bridge of time, 

abused and despised, 
redeemer of earthly love, 

I’ll keep 


my vigil here 

and for all be chastised. 


I’ll pay for all 

and for all I’ll weep. 

Roionde The two-step tune 

went splitting the walls 

into halves, 

into quarters, 

into a thousand splinters. 


158 



Somehow, 


in Montmartre, 

I. 

already old, 

clamber on a table — 

the umptieth instance. 

All the visitors 

have long since got sick, 
knowing in advance 

like a fiddler knows his score, 
that again they’ll be called — 

the same stale trick! — 

to go somewhere, 

save someone, 

god knows what for. 

In apology 

for the foozy way 

I rush on, 

the host explains: 

“Don’t you know, 

he’s Russian!” 


The women, 

bundles of flesh and rags, 
scream, laughing 

and drag me down by the legs. 

“Go? 

Not us! 

Toots! 

We’re 

prostitutes!” 

0 that the Seine 

were the Neva, 

a splash>back 

of a future day! 

1 space the Seine’s black boulevards, 
an outcast 

of today. 

A seven-footer, 

jeered at, 

jailed 

and hit, 


159 



I roar 

over brasshats, 

in boulevards booming: 

“To the Red Flag! 

March! 

From domestic shit! 
Through the brain of man, 

through the heart of woman 
Today it was something special, 

the booing. 

Wasn’t it hot! 

I’m all wet, 

just stewing! 

Half-death Got to get out for a bit of fresh air. 
nigo, 

yes. I’ll go, 

I don’t care where. 

Below me police-sergeants 

blow their whistles. 

Street-cleaners 

sweep me, 

corpse-like, listless. 

Dawn. 

Away from the Seine on my way 

I set, 

veiled by shadows of cinema grey. 

There — 

I saw it long since 

from a schoolkid’s desk; 

France’s map skims by, 

opaquely picturesque. 

Next, 

by pangs 

of remembrance 

seized 

I dragged o£F 

to take my leave of the East. 

Chance stop Jerked 

to a standstill, 

like ships on banks. 

I’m hitched to something 

by the seat of my pants. 


160 



I inspect it: 


slippery, 

shaped like an onion, 

big, 

all gilded — 

not a very funny one. 

Under the onion 

bells go boom\ 

Evening 

hems 

the wall-teeth with gloom. 

I’m on Ivan the Great, 

it appears. 

The Kremlin towers 

stand around like spears, 
with Moscow’s windows 

on the darkness trespassing 

Jolly! 

Green fir-trees 

peep out, Christmassy. 

The Christmas surge 

of singing and bells 

thrusts its waves 

at the Kremlin’s bastions. 

Rolling down 

from its seven hills, 
like the Terek, 

Moscow tosses in its festiveness. 

My hair’s on end. 

Like a frog 

I sit strained, 

afraid — 

at the slightest slip or error 
down the Myasnitskaya 

to be whirled again 

amid 

the familiar 

Christmas terror. 

Recapitula- With arms spread crosswise — 

like a cross on the dome — 

I catch my balance, 

waving crazily. 


11—570 


161 



No prayer so sure as niusele and f^rit 
I’o tlie devil meekness l)e hurled. 
We- 

eac h ol us — 
hold in our j'l if) 

the transmission belts ol the woild. 

C.loud in Pdiils 




Night thickens. 

Nothing is seen in the gloom. 

There’s the moon. 

Beneath me, 

the Mashuk looms hazily. 


Struggling for balance 

begins to tire me. 

Like a toy doll 

all cardboard up to my fingertips. 
They’ll spot me. 

Here I’m visible entirely, 
and the whole of the Caucasus 

teems with Pinkertons. 


Yes, they’ve spied me, 

announced it to all by a signal 

Sweethearts, friends 

stream in, crueller and crueller, 

from all the universe the signal brings them. 

In a haste to get even with me 

come duellers, 


more and more of them, 

glaring, bristling. 

Spitting on their palms, 

they slap me juicily 

with their hands, 

with the wind. 


countless, 

past listing, 


my cheeks 

to a bloody mess reducing. 
Glove-booths cluster 


scent-reeking ladies 


take off their gloves 


in shopping- centres: 
all Over the place 


whole gloveshops 


an(J hurl them by centners. 


Newspapers! 


flinging themselves at my face. 


Magazines! 


conic to the aid 


Don’t stand there gaping, 


of the slapping leatherware! 


164 



/ itiul (!( (ft If 


Soar up in curses, 

paper after paper! 

Box my ears, 

rumours, 

slurs, catch me everywhere! 

As it is 

I’m a cripple 

that love’s been maiming; 
Why can’t you dump your slops in pails? 

I’m not in your way, 

so why come and flay me? 

I’m only poetry, 

soul, 

nothing else. 

But below sounds “No, 

you’re our age-old foe. 

One of your sort — 

a hiissar^'^ — 

we’ve debunked 


Have a whiff 

of powder and lead — ho-ho! 

C^ome on, 


unbutton your shirt! 

Don’t funk!” 


Sharper than a thunderclap, 

swasliier than a shower, 

lined up, 

eyebrow to eyebrow, 

trousers to trouseis, 

from rifles and cannon 

with all their power, 

from each of a million brownings and mausers, 
from a hundred paces, 

then ten, 

then two, 

charge after charge, 

point-blank, 
they stop for a breath, 

then start anew, 

scattering lead, 

with a boom and bang. 

Finish him off! 

Stuff his heart full of lead! 


165 



Not even a tremor 

to flutter through! 

In the final end, 

everything must end. 

So the tremors 

ended too. 

Lejt-ovos The massacre’s over. 

Gaiety ahead, 
grinning over details, 

they swagger back. 

Only on the Kremlin 

the poet’s last shred 

glows in the wind 

like another red flag. 

And the stars, 

lyrical as ever, 

stare 

from the sky in wonder 

— blinking old stars! 

The Great Bear, too — 

troubladouring up there — 

what’s she up to — 

wants to become queen of bards? 

Great sister, 

bear me over the ages’ Ararats, 
through the sky of the deluge 

in your dipper-ark, Ursus! 

Bearwise, 

from my starship, 

straining my guts, 

I roar my stanzas 

through the noise of the Universe 

Quicker! 

Quicker! 

Quicker! 

Off into space! 

Look out sharper! 

Sunbeams 

up on the mountains 

flicker, 

new days smile 


from the piers in the harbour. 
166 



APPLICATION TO (name, surname) 

(PLEASE, COMRADE CJIEMI^, FILL IN YOURSELF) 


The ark heaves in. 


light up the dock 


Arc-lights play on the quay, 


where she’s to be moored in. 


And here 


immediately 


weighed down 


my shoulders give way. 


by the windowsill’s stony burden. 


The sun’s 


dried the deluge of night 


with its glare. 


At the window 


the day 


Kilimanjaro’s 


looks bright and hot. 


Kenya 


all I can see on the map. 


in Africa’s 


all I can spot. 


Like a bald head 


and I pore over it. 


my globe stands aglow 


bent with woe. 


The world, 


piled up 


longs to hug 


with calamities gruesome, 


so tight 


some comforting mountain bosom 


that from pole-caps 


lava wbuld pour 


through every vein 


with stones and flame. 


Just the same 


I, too. 


a communist-bear 


167 



would hug it now, 

sobbing 

in sheer despair. 

My father 

came 

of hereditary gentry; 
it’s somewhat too soft, 

my gentle-born skin. 

Perhaps 

ril scoop out my days 

with poetry 

and never sec 

a machine-tool spin. 

But with every nervc-twitch, 

voicc-trill 

and pulse, 

every hair-pike 

standing on end, 

revulsed, 

with my nostril-pits, 

with both eyes — 

knives aflash, 

with my tooth-saw, 

grated, 

gritted and gnashed, 

with my skin-crawl, 

my eyebrows’ 

wrath -knit folds— 

with the billions of pores 

that my body holds, 

in summer, 

winter, 

spring 

or fall, 

while sleeping, at night, 

and by day, awake, 

I denounce and reject, 

loathe and hate 

all, 

all hammered into us 

by the slavish past, 

168 



all that 

though swept off 

again and again 

settled 

and settles 

like domestic dust 

ev'en on our 

red-bannered domain. 

I won’t give them the pleasure 

of seeing me bent, 

my spirit broken, 

my courage spent. 

It won’t be soon 

you'll start whining and mourning: 
“What talent he had, 

the deceased, 

God bless him!” 


You can get me 

with a knife, 

fiom behind a coiner, 

but my forehead 

won’t be 

a target for Dantes’s. 

Four times I’ll age 

and grow young anew 
before the cemetery 

gets its due. 

Wherever I die 

it’ll be with a song. 

In whatever wilderness 

I may sag 

I know — 

I’m worthy 

of lying along 

with those 

who lie 

beneath a red flag. 

But whatever for, 

death’s the same everywhere: 

terrible — 

not to love; 

horrible — 

not to dare. 


169 



For you 

knife and bullet 

can hush any doubt. 

But what about me? 

Where’s my way out? 

In childhood, perhaps, 

in my memory’s dregs 

I can find ten days 

not totally wrecks. 

The luck others get — 

wouldn’t it be enough? 

But I never got it — 

in life or in love. 

Oh, to believe in another world! 

Easy to try — 

just aim a gun back 

and instantly 

to the next world you’re hurled, 

with a bullet 

tracing 

your thundering track. 

But what can I do 

if despite my plight, 

with all my mental and spiritual powers, 

I’ve believed 

and believe, 

whether wrong or right 

in this world, 

this blessed life of ours. 

Faith Let the waiting 

be stretched out 

to desperation, 

yet I see it — 

clear as hallucination. 

So clear, 

it seems 

just finish with these rhymes 

and lo — 

you land 

in the most magnificent of times. 

Not for me 

to query on which and what. 

170 



I see, 

I see it clearly, 

to a dot! 


Air on air, 

as if it’s stone on stone. 


impervious 

to crumbling and rust, 
it towers beyond the ages, 

all aglow, 

the workshop for reviving human dust. 

Here he is, 

the chemist, 

silent, 

lofty-browcd, 

wrinkling his nose, 

a new experiment contriving. 

Through the World Who’s Who 

he leafs 

and thinks aloud: 

“XXth century. 

Let’s look who’s worth reviving. 

Mayakovsky. . . 

surely not among the brightest. 

Decidedly, 

his face is far too plain.” 

Then from today’s worn page 

I’ll holler to the scientist, 


Stop turning over pages! 

Make me live again! 

Put a heart in me, 

knock thought into my skull, 
pump blood into my veins — 

give me new birth. 


I had no chance of loving, 

living to the full. 


Believe, 

I didn’t get 

my earthly share on earth. 

I’m six foot four. 

Who wants such stature when 
for jobs like mine 

a guinea-pig would suffice. 


171 



Caged in a house, 

I scribbled with a pen 
crammed in a room-hole 

lit perhaps for mice. 

I’d take any old job 

and never ask a bob! 

Clean, 

sweep, 

wash, 

scrub 

or simply run around. 

Why, 

I’d be glad to get a doorman’s job 
if doormen 

in your days 

will still be found. 

A jolly chap I was; 

much sense in being jolly 

when all we knew 

was misery and rigour. 

These days, 

when people bare their teeth, 

it’s solely 

to sink ’em in, 

to bite, 

to snarl, 

or snigger. 

Anything may happen — 

any sort of trouble. 

Call me, do, 

for joking helps superbly. 

I’ll amuse you 

till you actually bubble 
with ting-a-linging allegory 

and hyperbole. 

I loved. . . 

Sure, raking up the past 

is not much use. 

(Painful? 

Never mind! 

At least pain lives when all has ceased) 
I did love beasts, though. 

Have you still got zoos? 

172 



Then let me be a keeper for your beasts. 

1 love the creatures. 

When 1 spot a pup — 
there’s a funny one — 

all bald- 

hangs round the baker’s — 
I feel like I could cough my own liver up: 

Here, doggie, 

don’t be shy, dear, take this! 

Lov( And then, perhaps, 

some day 

down pathways that I’ll sweep 

(she too loved beasts), 

she’ll come to see the zoo 

smiling the same 

as on the photo that I keep — 
they’ll bring her back to life — 

she’s nice enough, 

she'll do 

Your umptieth century 

will leave them all behind, 

trifles 

that stung one’s heart 

in a buzzing swarm, 

and then 

we’ll make up 

for these loveless times 
through countless midnights, 

starry, 

sweet and wai m. 

Revive me, 

if for nothing else, 

because 

I, 

poet, 

cast off daily trash 

to wait for you. 

Revive me — 

never miml under what clause. 

Revive me, really, 

let me live my due, 

to love — 

with love no more a sorry servant 
173 



of matrimony, 


and daily bread, 

but spreading out 

throughout the universe 

and further, 

forsaking sofas, 

cursing boudoir and bed. 

No more to beg 

for one day as a dole 

and then to age 

in endless sorrow drowned, 
but to see all the globe 

at the first call 

of “Comrade!” 

turn in glad response around. 

No more a martyr 

to that hole one calls one’s hearth, 
but to call everybody 

sister, 

brother, 

to see your closest kin 

in all the earth, 

aye, all the world 

to be your father and your mother. 


1922-1923 



VLADIMIR ILYICH LENIN 


To the Russian 

Communist Party 

I dedicate this poem 


The time has come. 

1 begin 

the story of Lenin. 

Not 

because the giief 

is on the wane, 

but because 

the shock of the first moment 

has become 

a clear-cut, 

weighed and fathomed pain. 

Time, 

speed on, 

spread Lenin’s slogans in your whirl! 

Not for us 

to drown in tears, 

whatever happens. 

There’s no one 

more alive 

than Lenin in the world, 

our strength, 

our wisdom, 

surest of our weapons. 

People 

are boats, 

although on land. 

While life 

is being roughed 

all species 

of trash 

from the rocks and sand 

stick 

to the sides of our craft. 


But then, 

having broken 

through the storm’s mad froth. 


175 



one sits 


in the sun 


lor a lime 


and cleans off 


and oozy 


the tousled seaweed growth 


jellyfish slime. 


1 


go to Lenin 

to clean off mine 

to sail on 

with the revolution. 

1 fear 

these eulogies 

line upon line 

like a boy 

fears falsehood and delusion. 

Theydl rig up an aura 

round any head; 

the very idea — 

I abhor it, 

that such a halo 

poetry-bred 

should hide 

I..enin’s real, 

huge, 

human forehead. 

I’m anxious lest rituals, 

mausoleums 

and processions, 

the honeyed incense 

of homage and publicity 

should 

obscure 

Lenin’s essential 

simplicity. 

I shudder 

as I would 

for the apple of my eye 

lest Lenin 

be falsified 

by tinsel beauty. 

176 



Write! — 


votes my heart, 


the mandate 


commissioned by 


of duty. 


All Moscow’s 

frozen through, 

yet the earth quakes with emotion. 

Frostbite 

drives its victims 

to the fires. 

Who is he? 

Where from? 

Why this commotion? 

Why such honours 

when a single man expires? 

Dragging word by word 

from memory's coffers 

won’t suit cither me 

or you who read. 

Yet what a meagre choice 

the dictionary offers! 

Whei e to get 

the very words we need? 

We’ve 

seven days 

to spend, 

twelve hours 

for diverse uses. 

Life must begin — 

and end. 

Death won’t accept 

excuses. 

But if 

it’s no more 

9 matter of hours, 
if the calendar measure 

falls short, 

“Epoch” 

is a usual 

comment of ours, 


12—570 


177 



“Era” or something 


of the sort. 


We 

sleep 

at night, 

busy 

around 

by day, 

each grinds his water 

in his own pet mortar 

and so 

fritters life away. 

But if, 

single-handed, 

somebody can 

turn the tide 

to everyone’s profit 

wc utter 

something like 

‘"Superman”, 

“Genius” 

or “Prophet”. 

We 

don’t ask much of life, 
won’t budge an inch 

unless required. 

To please 

the wife 
is the utmost 

to which we aspire. 

But if, 

monolithic 

in body and soul, 

someone 

unlike us 

emerges, 

we discover 

a god-like aureole 
or appendages 

equally gorgeous. 

Tags and tassels 


laid out on shelves, 
178 



neither silly 


nor smart- 


Go 


no weightier than smoke. 


scrape meaning 

out oi such shells — 

empty as eggs 

without white or yolk. 

How, then, apply 

such yaiclsticks to Lenin 
when anyone could see 

with his very own eyes: 

that “era” 

cleaied doorways 

without even bending, 

wore jackets 

no biggci 

than average size. 

Should Lenin, too, 

be hailed by the nation 

as “Leader 

by Divine Designation”.^ 

Had he 

been kingly or godly indeed 
I’d never spare myself, 

on protest bent; 

I’d raise a clamour 

in hall and street 
against the crowds, 

speeches, 

processions 

and laments. 

I’d find 

the words 

for a thundering condemnation, 

and while 

I’d be trampled on, 

I and my cries, 

I’d bomb 

the Kremlin 

with demands 

for resignation, 


179 



hurling 


blasphemy 


into the skies. 


But calm 


by the coffin 


Dzerzhinsky^- 


Today 


appears. 


he could easily 


dismiss 


In millions of eyes 


the guard. 


shines nothing 


not running down cheeks. 


Your divinity’s decease 


No! 


but tears, 
but frozen hard. 


won’t rouse a mote of feeling. 


Today 

real pain 

chills every heart. 

We’re burying 

the earthliest 

of beings 

that ever came to play 

an earthly part. 

Earthly, yes; 

but not the earth-bound kind 
who’ll never peer 

beyond the precincts of their sty. 

He took in 

all the planet 

at a time, 

saw things 

out of reach 

for the common eye. 

Though like you and I 

in every detail, 

his forehead rose 

a taller, 

steeper tower; 


180 



the thought-dug wrinkles 


round the eyes 


went deeper, 


the lips looked firmer, 

more ironical than ours. 
Not the satrap’s firmness 


tightening the reins, 


that’ll grind us, 
beneath a triumph-chariot’s wheel. 


With friends 


he’d be 


the veiy soul of kindness, 


with enemies 


as hard 


as any steel. 


He, too, 


had illnesses 


and weaknesses 


to fight 


and hobbies 


just the same as we have, 


readei . 


For me it’s billiaids, say, 


for him it’s chess — 


to whet the sight; 


more useful 


for a leader. 


And turning 


face about 


from chess 


yesterday’s dumb pawns 


to living foes. 


he led 


to a war of classes 


until a human, 


working-class dictatorship 


to checkmate Capital 


arose 


We and he 


and crush its prison-castle. 


had the same ideals to cherish. 


181 



Then why is it, 

no kin of his, 

I’d welcome death, 

crazy with delight, 

would gladly perish 
so that he might draw 

a single breath? 

And not I alone. 

Who says I’m better than the rest? 
Not a single soul of us, 

I reckon, 

in all the mines 

and mills 

from East 

to West 

would hesitate 

to do the same 

at the slightest beckon. 

Instinctively, 

I shrink 

from tram-rails 

to quiet corners, 

giddy 

as a drunk 

who sees the lees. 

Who would mind 

my puny death 

among these mourners 

lamenting 

the enormousness 

of his decease? 


With banners 

and without, 

they come, 

as if all Russia 


had again 

turned nomad for a while. 

The House of Unions®^ 

trembles with their motion. 
What can be the reason? 

Wherefore? 

Why? 


182 



Snow-tears 


from the flcigs’ red eyelids 

run. 


The telegraph’s gone hoarse 

with humming mournful rumours. 


Who is he? 

Where from? 

What has he done, 


(his man, 

the most humane 

of all us humans.^ 




Ulyanov’s short life 

is well known 

to men in 

every country 

among every race. 

But the longer biography 

of Comrade Lenin 

has still 

to be written, 

rewritten 

and retraced. 

Far, 

far back, 

two hundred years or so, 
the earliest beginnings 

of Lenin go. 

Hear those brazen, 

peremptory tones 
with their century-piercing motif? 

It’s the grandfather 

of Bromley’s and Goujon’s,^* 

the first 

steam locomotive. 

Capital, 

His Majesty, 

uncrowned, 

as yet unknown, 


183 



declares 

the gentry’s power 

overthrown. 

The city pillaged, 

plundered, 

pumped 

gold 

into the bellies 

of banks, 

while at the workbenches, 

lean and humped, 

the working class 

closed ranks. 

And already threatened, 

rearing smokestacks 

to the sky, 

“Pave your way with us 

to fortunes, 

grip us tighter! 

But remember: 

he is coming, 

he is nigh, 

the Man, 

the Champion, 

the Avenger, 

the Fighter!” 

And already 

smoke and clouds 

get mixed together 

as when mutineers 

turn orderly detachments 

into crowds, 

until 

the tokens of a storm 

begin tp gather — 

the sky brews trouble — 

ugly smoke blacks out the clouds. 

’Mid beggars 

a mountain of goods arises. 

The manager, 

bald beast, 


184 



flips his abacus, 

blurts out “crisis!’’ 
and pins up a list: 

“DISMISSED: ” 

Fly-blown 

pastries 

in dustbins found graves, 

grain — 

in granaries 

with mildew cloyed, 

while past 

the windows 

of Yeliseyev’s,^^'* 

belly caved in, 

shuffled the unemployed. 

And the call 

came rumbling 

from shack and slum, 

covering 

the whimper of kiddies: 

“C]ome, protector! 

Redressor, come! 

And we’ll go 

to battle 

or wherever you bid us!” 




Hey, 

camel, 

discoverer of colonies! 


Ahoy, 

caravans 

of steel -hulled ships! 

March through the desert, 

sunsets following, 
cleave through the billows 

on east-bound trips! 


Shadows 

of ominous 

ugly black 


185 



start patching the sky 


over sun-kissed oases. 


Hear the Negro 

with whip-lashed back 

muttering 

among the bananas and maizes: 

“Oo-oo, 

00 - 00 , 

Nile, my Nile! 

Splash up a day 

like a crocodile, 

let it be blacker 

than I at night 

With fire 

like my blood, 

as red 

and as bright, 

for the fattest bellies 

both white and black 

to fry and sizzle, 

to split and crack! 

Each 

and every 

ivory tusk 

hack and poke them 

from dawn to dusk. 

Don’t let me bleed in vain — 

if only for descendants 

come, 

O Sun-Faced, 

deal out justice and defend us! 

I’m through; 

the God of deaths won’t wait — 

I’ve lived my while. 

Mind my incantation, 

Nile, my Nile!” 

From snow-bound Russia 

to sun-scorched Patagonia 

mechanical sweat-mills 

went grinding 

and groaning. 

In Ivanovo-Voznesensk,^ 

the loom-twirling city, 

186 



brickwork 

mammoths 

shook with the ditty: 
“Cotton-mill, my cotton-mill, 
Gins and looms a-buzzin\ 

It’s high time he came along, 
Another Stenka Razin!”®^ 




Grandsons will ask, 

“What does Capitalism mean?” 

just as kiddies 

today, 

“What’s a Gendarme, Dad?” 

So here’s 

capitalism 

as then he was seen, 

portrayed 

for grandsons 

full-size in my pad. 

Capitalism 

in his early years 
wasn’t so bad — 

a business-like 

fellow. 

Worked like blazes — 

none of those fears 


that his snowy cravat 


would soil 


Feudal tights 


and turn yellow. 


felt too tight 


forged on 


for the youngster; 


no worse 


raised revolutions 


than we do these days; 


and 


joined his voice 


with gusto 


in the Marseillaise. 


187 



Machines he spawned 
and put 

new slaves 


from his own smart head 


to their service: 
million-strong broods 

of workers 


all over 

the world’s surface. 
Whole kingdoms 

and counties 


spread 


he swallowed at a time 


with their crowns 

and eagles 

and suchlike ornaments. 


fattening up 

like the biblical kinc, 
licking his chops, 

his tongue — 

parliament. 


But weaker 

with years 

his limb-steel became, 


he swelled up 

with leisure and pleasure, 
gaining in bulk 

and weight 

the same 


as his own 

beloved ledger. 

He built himself palaces 

ne’er seen before. 

Artists — 

hordes of ’em — 

went through their chores. 

Floors — 

a I’Empire, 

ceilings — 

Rococo, 

walls — 

Louis XIV, 

Quatorze. 


188 



Around him 


with faces 

equally fit 

to be faces 

oi the places 

on which they sit, 

keeping the peace, 

stood buttock- faced 

police. 

His soul 

to song 

and to colour insensate — 

like a cow 

in a meadow abloom with Jlowers — 

ethics 

and aesthetics 

his domestic utensils 

to be filliped with 

in idyllic hours. 

Inferno and paradise 

both his i:)ossession, 

he sells to old dames 

whose faculties fail 
nail-holes from the Ooss, 

the ladder of Ascension, 

and feathers 

from the Holy Spirit’s 

tail. 

But finally 

he too 

outgrew himself 

living 

ofiF the blood and sweat 

of the people. 

Just guzzling, 

snoozing 

and pocketing pelf. 

Capitalism 

got lazy and feeble. 

All blubber, 

he sprawled 

in History’s way. 


189 



No 

getting over 

or past him. 

So snug 

in his world-wide 

bed 


the one way out 


he lay, 

was to blast him. 


I know, 

your critics’ll 

grip their whipsticks, 
your poets’ll go hysteric: 

“Call that poetry? 

Sheer publicistics. 

No feeling, 

no nothing — 

just bare rhetoric!” 

Sure, 

“Capitalism” rings 

not so very elegant; 

“Nightingale” 

has a far more delicate sound. 

Yet I’ll go back to it 

whenever relevant. 

Let stanzas 

like fighting slogans resound! 

I’ve never 

been lacking in topics — 

you know it, 

but now’s 

no time 

for lovesick tattle. 

All 

my thundering power of a poet 
is yours, 

my class 

waging rightful battle! 

“Proletariat” 


too clumsy for using 


190 



to those 

whom communism 
For us, though, 

it sounds 


throws into a fright. 


that’ll rouse 


like mighty music 


the dead 

to get up 

and light. 

Sumptuous mansions 

huddle closer, shivering. 

Up theii stoieys 

goes the ciy of basements, quivering: 
“We’ll break liee 

into the sky’s 

wide-open blue. 


out 

of the abysmal stone blind alley. 

He will come — 

a worker’s son all through, 
a leader yet unborn, 

the pioletaiiat to rally.” 

Look, 

the woild’s already small for Capital’s ambition; 
with his billion-dollar 


doomed 


diamond-studded hands. 


to dream of gain 

until perdition. 

Capital 

goes grabbing other lands. 

Off they march, 

in clashing steel, 

athirst for pillage. 

“Kill!” 


they shriek; 

two moneybags must come to clutches. 
Soldiers’ graveyards 

blot out every village, 

each town 

becomes a workshop 

making crutches. 


191 



When it’s over 


they lay their tables, 

iinfinicky. 


Victory’s 

the cake they carve and share. 

But — 

hearken to the burial mounds’ ventriloquy, 
to the castanets of bones 

picked clean and bare. 
“You will see us once again 

in war allare. 


Time will not forgive 

the bloody crime. 

He is coming — 

sage and leader — 

to declare 


war on you, 

to end war for all time.” 
Lakes of tears 


All too deep 


spread out 

to Hood the globe, 
grow blood-mires, 

all too copious. 


Till at last 

lone day-dreamers 

began to probe 


the probabilities 

of fancy-bred utopias. 


But— 

philanthropists — 

they got their brain-pans cracked 
against the adamantine rock 

of actual fact. 


How could 

footpaths 

blazed by random spurts of brilliance 
serve as thoroughfares 

for all the suffering millions? 

Now Capitalism 

himself, 

the blundering thief. 


192 



can’t tame them, 

so his cogs’ wild tempo rises. 

His system’s caiiied 

like a yellow 

wilted leaf 

over the giddy ups and downs 

of strikes and crises. 

What to make 

of all this 

gold-fed ciicus, 

whom to blame 

and on whose side 

to stand 

The million-headed, 

million-handed 

class of workers 

strains its brains 

itself to understand. 


Capital’s days 

were eroded and gnarled 

by time 

outblazing 

searchlight arcs, 

till time 

gave biith 

to a man named Karl — 

Lenin’s 

elder brother Marx. 

Marx! 

His portrait’s gray-framed sternness 

grips one. 

But what a gulf 

between impressions 

and his life! 

What we see 

immured in marble 

or in gypsum 

seems a cold old man 

long since past care and strife. 

But when the workers took — 

uncertain yet in earnest- 


13— 570 


193 



the first short steps 

along their revolutionary path, 

into what a giant, 

blazing furnace 

Marx 

fanned up his mind and heart! 

As if he’d drudged whole shifts 

in every factory himself 

and, 

callousing his hands, 

each tool and job had handled, 

Marx caught 

the pilferers 

of surplus value 

with their pelf, 

red-handed. 

Where others quailed, 

eyes dropped too low 

in awe 

to peer up 

even as high 

as a profiteer’s umbilicus, 

Marx undertook 

to lead the proletariat 

into class war 

to slay the golden calf, 

by then a bull, 

immense and bellicose. 

Into the bay of communism, 

still fogged 

with blinding mystery, 

we thought 

the waves of chance alone 

could bring us 

from our hell. 

Marx 

disclosed 

the deepest 

laws of history, 
put 

the proletariat 

at the helm. 


194 



13 * 


No, 

Marx’s books 

aren’t tnerely print and paper, 
not dust-dry manuscripts 

with dull statistic ligures. 

His books 

brought order 

to the straggling ranks of labour 

and led them forward, 

full of faith and vigour. 

He led them 

and he told them: 

“Fall in battles! 

The proof of theories 

are concrete deeds. 

He’ll come 

one day, 

the genius of practice, 

and guide you on 

from books 

to battlefields!” 

As he wrote 

his last 

with fingers trembling, 

as the last thoughts 

flickered in his eyes, 

I know, 

Marx had a vision 

of the Kremlin 

and the flag 

of the Commune 

in Moscow’s skies. 


Like melons 


the years 


Labour 


came on in maturity. 


grew out 'of childhood 


Capital’s 


at length. 


bastions 


lost security 
195 



as the proletarian tide 

gained momentum and strength. 

In a matter 

of several years or so 
inklings of gales 

into tempests grow. 

Uprisings break out 

as the climax of wrath, 

revolutions 

come in their aftermath. 

Ruthless 

are the bourgeois’ bestial ways; • 

crushed 

by Thiers’ and Galliffet’s^ 

inhuman hammer, 

from Paris, 

from the wall 

of Pere Lachaise®® 

the shadows 

of the Communards 

still clamour: 

“Look and listen, 

comrades! 

Learn 

from our debacle! 

Woe to single fighters! 

Let our lesson 

not be missed. 

Only by a party 

can the enemy be tackled, 

clenching 

all the working class 

in one great fist!” 

“We leaders!” 

some’ll say, 

then turn about and sting. 

Learn to see 

beneath the words 

the spotted skin! 

There’ll be a leader 

ours to the least thing, 
straight as rails, simple as bread, 

prepared to go through thick and thin. 


196 



A pot-pourri 

of faiths and classes, 

dialects 

and conditions, 

on wheels of gold 

the great world 

creaked along. 

Capital, 

a very hedgehog for contradictions, 
bristling with bayonets, 

waxed fat and strong. 

The spectre of Communism 

haunted Europe, 
withdrew, then roamed again 

throughout its girtli. 

For all these reasons 

in Simbirsk, 

half-way from Moscow 

to the Urals, 

Lenin, 

a boy like any other, 

came to birth. 


I knew a worker — 

he was illiterate — 

hadn’t even tasted 

the alphabet’s salt, 

yet he 

had listened 

to a speech by Lenin 

and so 

knew 

all. 

I remember a story 

by a Siberian peasant; 

they’d seized land, 

held it 

and worked it 


They’d never even heard. 


into very heaven 
much less read Lenin 


but were Leninists all, 


from seven to seventy-seven. 
197 



IVe been up mountains — 

not a lichen on their sides. 

Just clouds 

lying prone 

on a rocky ledge. 

The one 

living soul 

for hundreds 

of miles 

wa^ a herdsman 

resplendent 

with Lanin’s badge. 

Some’ll call it 

a hankering for pins. 

Fit for girls — 

makes a frock 

look a bit more rich. 

But that pin’ll scorch 

through shirts 

and skins, 

to the hearts 

brimful 

of devotion to Ilyich. 

This couldn’t 

be explained 

by churchmen’s 

hooks and crooks; 

no God Almighty 

bade him 

be a saviour. 

Working 

step 

by step 

his way through life and books, 

he grew to be 

the teacher of world labour. 


Look down 


at Russia 


She’s blue 


from a flying plane. 


with rivers 


as if 


198 



lashed all over 

with a willow cane 

or striped 

by a seven-tail whip. 

But bluer 

than a river 

ever looks through its rushes 

were the bruises 

of landlord-ridden 

Russia. 


Take a sidelong view 
wherever 


of the woebegone land: 


you cast your eyes 
mountains, 

pit-heads 

and prisons stand 


propping up 

her skies. 

But worse than jail, 

worse than war in the trenches 


was the lot 

of those 

who slaved at her benches. 
There were countries 


more beautiful, 


richer by far, 

I’ve heard, 


more sane, 
but never have I met 

in the whole wide world 

a land 

more full 

of sorrow 

and pain. 

Yet pain and contempt 

can’t be borne 

forever. 

Land and Freedom! 

the cry grew strong, 

until lone rebels, 

believers 

in individual terror 


199 



pass it on, 

making 

the lesson 

good. 

Yesterday it was dozens, 

today it’s hundreds, 

tomorrow 

thousands 

into action rising, 
till the whole working world 

will start rumbling like thunder 

and break 

into an open uprising. 

We’re no longer timid 

as newly-born lambkins; 

the workers’ wrath 

condenses 

into clouds, 

slashed 

by the lightning 

of Lenin’s pamphlets, 

his leaflets 

showering 

on surging crowds. 

The class 

drank its All 

of Lenin’s light 


and, 

enlightened, 

broke 

from the gloom of millennia. 

And in turn, 

imbibing 

the masses’ might, 
together with the class 

grew Lenin. 

And gradually, 

enriched 


by the fertile communion. 


they bring 

young Vladimir’s pledge 

to realisation. 


202 



no longer 

each 

on his own, 

but a Union 

of Fighters 

for Working Class 

Emancipation.^^ 

Leninism spreads 

ever wider 

and deeper. 

Lenin’s disciples 

work miracle after miracle, 
the underground’s grit 

traced in blood-drops 

seeping 

through the dust 

and slush 

of the endless Vladimirka.^^ 

Today 

we spin 

the old globe 

our way. 

Yet even 

when debating 

in Kremlin armchairs 

there’s few 

won’t suddenly jecall a day 

filled 

with the groans 

of chain-gang marchers. 

Remember 

the none-too-distant past: 
beyond the eye-hole, 

trams, droshkies, cars. . . 

Who of you, 

let me ask, 

didn’t bite 

and tear 

at prison-bars? 

We could smash out 

our brains 

on the walls weighing on us: 


203 



All they did was mop up 

and strew sand. 
“It wasn’t long but honest, 

Your service to your land. . . .” 

In which of his exiles 

did Lenin 

get fond 

of the mournful power 

of that song? 


The peasant — 

’twas urged — 

would blaze his own tracks 

and set up socialism 

without hitch or wrangle. 

But no — 

Russia too 

goes bristling with stacks; 
black beards of smoke 

round her cities tangle. 

There’s no god 

to bake us 

pies in the skies. 

The proletariat 

must head 

the peasant masses. 

Over capital’s corpse 

Russia’s highroad 

lies, 

with Lenin 

to lead 

the toiling classes. 

They’d promise heaps, 

wordy liberals and S.R.s,*^- 

themselves 

not loath 

to saddle workers’ backs. 

Lenin made 

short work of their yarns, 
left them bare as babies 

in the blaze of facts. 

He soon disposed 


of their empty prattle 
204 



full of “liberty’’, 

“fraternity” 

and suchlike words. 

Arming 

with Marxism, 

mustering for battle, 

rose the only 

Bolshevik Party 

in the world. 

Now, 

touring the States 

in a de luxe coupe, 
or footing it through Russia — 

wherever you be 

they meet you, 

the letters 

R.C.P. 

with their bracketed neighbour. 

Today 

it’s red Mars 

astronomers are hunting, 

telescopes 

scanning the sky from a high tower. 
Yet that modest letter 

on paper or bunting 

shines to the world 

ten times redder and brighter. 

32 - 


Words — 

even the finest — 

turn into litter, 

wearing threadbare 

with use and barter. 

Today 

I want to infuse 

new glitter 

into the most glorious of words: 

PARTY. 

Individual — 

what can he mean 

in life? 


205 



Ovc) Ihc vvoild v\i(lc foK'st 


like a ^lant banuei 


of la( loi s s) u ks 


tlic huge 


millions of hands 


Red Squaie. 


weliled into its sl.ifT, 


soars 


with a mighty sweep 


into the air. 


Vladimir Ilyich Lenin 




His voice 

sounds fainter 

than a needle dropping. 

Who hears him? 

Only, perhaps, 

his wife, 

and then if she’s near 

and not out shopping. 

A Party’s 

a raging, 

single-voiced storm 

compressed 

out of voices 

weak and thin.. 

The enemy strongholds 

burst with its roar 

like eardrums 

when cannon 

begin their din. 

One man alone 

feels down and out. 

One man alone 

won’t make weather. 

Any old bully 

can knock him about — 
even weaklings 

if two together. 

But when 

we midgets 

in a Party stand — 

surrender, 

enemy, 

fade 

out of sight! 

A Party’s 

a milliqn-fingered hand 

clenched 

into one fist 

of shattering might. 
What’s an individual? 

No earthly good. 

One man, 

even the most important of all. 



can’t raise a ten-yard log of wood, 
to say nothing 

of a house 

ten stories tall. 

A Party means millions 

of arms, 

brains, 

eyes 

linked 

and acting together. 

In a Party 

we’ll lear our projects to the skies, 
upholding and helping 

one another. 

The Party’s 

the compass 

that keeps us on course, 

the backbone 

of the whole working class. 

The Party 

embodies 

the immortality of our cause, 

our faith 

that will never 

fail or pass. 

Yesterday an underling, 

today 

whole empires I’m uncharting. 

The brain, 

the strength, 

the glory of its class, 

that’s what it is, 

our Party. 

Lenin 

and the Party 

are brother-twins. 

Who’ll say 

which means more 

to History, their mother? 

Lenin 

and the Party 

are the closest kin; 


14—570 


209 



name one 


and you can’t but imply 


the other. 


Crowns and coronets 


bourgeois 


still galore, 


still blacken 


But labour’s lava 


like wintering crows. 


already starts to pour: 


see — 


through the Party’s crater 


it flows. 


January 9. 


Gapon,^^ 


debunked. 


the “people’s friend”, 


We fall 


in the rifles' crackle. 


Tall tales 


about the tsar’s royal mercy 

end 

with Mukden’s bloodbath 

and Tsushima’s debacle.*^^ 

Enough! 

No belief left 

for twaddle and twiddle. 

The Presnya^^ 

takes to arms, 

done with ballyhoo. 

It seemed 

the throne 

would soon snap across the middle 

and forthwith 

the bourgeois easy chair too. 

Ilyich is everywhere. 

Day after day 

he fights 

with the workers 

through 1905, 


210 



standing nearby 

on every barricade, 

innerving 

the revolution 

with his vigour and drive. 

But soon 

came the treacherous trick: 

Hey Presto! 

Red ribbons 

blossomed 

like a virgin’s cheek. 

The tsar 

from his balcony 

read the Manifesto.^^ 

Then, 

after a “free” honey-week, 
the speeches, 

the singing, 

the hooraying and hailing 

are covered 

by the treble bass of 


on the workers’ blood goes sailing 
the tsar’s butcher-admiral 

Dubasov.^*^ 

Spit in the faces 

of white dross who tell us 
about the Cheka’s®^ 

blood-dousings! 

They ought to have seen 

how, tied by the elbows, 

workers 

were flogged to death 

by thousands. 

Reaction ran amuck. 

Intellectual bunglers 

withdrew, 

recluses, 

and became the meekest, 
locked themselves in 

with blinking candles 

and smoked incense, 

god-damn God-seekers.®^ 


14 * 


211 



Even Comrade Plekhanov®^ himself 

raised a whine: 

“It’s the Bolsheviks’ fault; 

it’s theirs, the muddle is. 

Shouldn’t have taken up arms 

at the time 

and blood wouldn’t swirl, 

as it does, 

in puddles.” 

But here 

with his courage 

never failing 

Lenin 


cut 

into the traitors’ wail: 

“O yes we should have — 

I’ll repeat it daily — 

only far more resolutely — 

and wouldn’t have failed. 

I see 

the hour of new upheavals 

arriving 

again 

to bring out 

the working 

classes. 

Not defence 

but attack 

should become the driving 

slogan 

of the masses.” 

That nightmare year 

with the bloody bath 

and the massacre 

of the workers’ 

insurgent millions 

will pass 

and appear 

as preparatory class 

for the hurricanes 

of future rebellions. 


>*• 


212 



And Lenin 


once more 

turns exile into college, 

educating us 

for the coming battle, 
teaching others, 

himself gaining knowledge, 
regathering the Party, 

unmanned and scattered 

Year after year 

the strikes scored higher; 

a spark 

and the people’d 

Hare up again. 

But then 


came a year 

that put off the fire — 

1914 

with its deluge of pain. 

It’s thrilling 

when veterans 

twirl their whiskers 

and, smirking, 

spin yarns 

about old campaigns. 

But this wholesale, 

world-wide 

auction of mincemeat- 

with what Poltava 

or Plevna®^ 

will it compare? 

Imperialism 

in all 

his filth and mud, 

false teeth bared, 

growling and grunting, 

quite at home 

in the gurgling ocean of blood, 
went swallowing up 

country after country. 

Around him, 

cozy, 

social-patriots and sycophants 


213 



raising heavenwards 


the hands 

that betray, 

scream like monkeys 

till everyone’s sick of it: 

“Worker- 

fight on — 

on with the fray!” 

The world’s 

iron scrap-heap 

kept piling 

and piling, 

mixed with minced man’s-flesh 

and splintered bone. 

In the midst 

of all this 

lunatic asylum 

Zimmerwald®"'^ 

stood sober alone. 

Ever remembered 

is the speech Lenin made 
above the world uproar 

raising on high 

a voice 

far louder 

than any cannonade, 
thoughts more inflaming 

than any fire. 

On one side 

were millions 

writhing in the labour 

of war 

to bring would-be victory 

forth, 

on the other — 

cigainst 

both cannon and sabre — 


one man 


of ordinary 


‘Soldiers! 


stature and girth. 


The bourgeois 


betray and sell you. 


214 



send you to slaughter 

as a thousand times before. 

Enough of it! 

Hear what I tell you: 

Turn this war 

among nations 

into civil war. 

What are we, 

peoples, 

arguing for? 

Put an end 

to catastrophes, 

wounds 

and losses. 

Raise the banner 

of holy war 

against 

die world-wide bosses!” 

It looked as though, 

infernally booming, 
the cannon would sneeze 

and blow him away. 

Who’d ever find 

the fragile human? 

Who would remember 

his name? 

“Surrender!” 

one country roared to another. 
Looked as if they’d go on fighting 

for millennia. 

But at last it was over, 

and lo, 

no winners 

except for one — 

Comrade Lenin. 

Imperialism, 

damn you! 

You’ve exhausted our patience, 

once fit for angels. 

Rebellious Russia 

has rammed you 

through — 

from Tebriz to Archangel. 


215 



An empire’s no hen — 

no joke bagging it, 

the two-headed, 

power-vested, 

hook-beaked eagle. 

And yet 

we spat out 

like a finished fag-end 

their dynasty 

with all trappings, 

regal and legal. 

The nation 

scrambling out of the mire, 

huge, 

famished, 

blood-crust all over it — 

would it go on 

dragging chestnuts from the fire 
for the bourgeois, 

or would it go Soviet? 

“The people 

have broken 

tsarist fetters. 

Russia’s boiling, 

Russia’s ablaze!” 

Lenin read 

in newspapers and letters 
in Switzerland 

where he lived those days. 

But what could one fish 

out of newsprint tatters? 

for an airplane 

skyward to speed — 

home, 

to the aid 

of the workers in battle — 

that 

was his only longing and need. 

But at last 

at the Party’s bidding 

he’s on wheels. 


216 



If only 

the murderous Hohenzollern®^ knew 
that the German goods waggon 

under German seals 

carried 

a bomb 

for his monarchy, too! 


Petrograd citizens 

still kept skipping, 

exulting 

in glee ephemeral. 

But already, 

red-ribboned, 

in martial frippery, 

the Nevsky^^^ swarmed 

with treacherous generals. 

Another few months 

and they’ll reach the limit: 

it’ll come 

to policemen’s whistles. 

The bourgeois 

already itch to begin it, 

already 

the fur 

on the beast’s back bristles. 

At first 

mere fry 

at which one might scoff, 

then big sharks 

emerged 

to swallow 

the nation. 

Next 

Dardanelsky, 

nee Milyukov,®^ 

and finally 

^ Prince Mikhail®® 

agog for coronation. 

The Premier®^ 

wields power 

with feathery splendour: 


217 



none of your commissar’s snarling. 

Sings in a tenor 

maidenly tender, 
even kicks up hysterics, 

the darling. 

We hadn’t yet tasted 

the sorriest crumbs 

of February’s 

freedom-prodigies 

when 

“Off to the front, 

working thingamagums!” 

the war-boys 

began prodding us. 

And to crown 

this picture 

of passing beauty, 

traitors and doublecrossers 

before and after that, 

S.R.s and Savinkovs^ 

stood on watchdog duty 

with Mensheviks^^ 

as the Tell-Tale Cat. 

When suddenly 

into the city 

sleekening with blubber, 

from beyond 

the broad-banked Neva, 
from Finland Station 

through the Vyborg suburb 

rumbled 

an armoured car. 

And again 

the gale, 

momentum gaining, 

set the whirlwind 

of revolution spinning. 

Caps and blouses 

flooded the Liteiny®^. 

“Lenin’s with us! 

Long live Lenin!” 


218 



“Comrades,” 


and over the heads 

of the hundreds clapping 

forward 

a guiding hand 

he thrust, 

“Let’s cast off 

the outworn Social-Democrat trappings 
Chuck the capitalists 

and their yes-men 

into the dust! 

We voice 

the will 

of the toileis 

and tillers 

of the whole world. 

Now’s the hour. 

Long live the Party 

of communism buildeis, 

long live 

armed struggle 

for Soviet power!” 

For the first time ever 

without ado 

before the flabbergasted 

human ocean 

arose 

as a routine job to do 
once unattainable 

socialism. 

There, 

beyond the factories roaring, 
there, on the horizon 

with blinding force 

it shone 

before us, 

the Commune 

of tomorrow 

without bourgeois, 

proletarians, 

slaves 

or lords. 


219 



Through the tangle 

of tethering 

yes-men’s tenets 


Lenin’s speech 

came crashing like an axe, 
indented with uproar 

every minute: 


“Right, 

Lenin! 


It’s time to act!” 

Kshesinskaya’s palace,*'*^ 

earned by twiddling toes 


today’s invaded 

by boots 

steel-heeled. 


It’s here 

the factory multitude 

flows 


in Lenin’s smithy 

to be tempered 

and steeled. 

“Munch your pineapples, 

chew your grouse! 

Your days are over, 

bourgeois louse!” 

Already we demanded 

the wherefore and why 

from those 

who, lording it, 

quaffed and guzzled, 

and during 

the dress rehearsal of July®^ 
tickled their gizzards 

with revolver muzzles. 


The bosses bared fangs, 

their looks spelt murder: 

“Rioting slaves! 

We’ll show ’em!” 

they thundered. 

“Lenin to the wall!” 

Kerensky penned the order; 


220 



“To jail with Zinoviev'^''\*” 

and the Party 

went underground. 

Ilyich’s in Finland, 

at Razliv, 

safe and sound, 

hidden securely 

in a twig shelter. 

It won’t betray him 

to the pack of hounds 

ready 

to snap him up 

in the welter. 

Lenin’s unseen, 

and yet he’s near, 
and time and events 

don’t stand. 

Every slogan 

is Lenin’s idea, 

every move 

is guided 

by Lenin’s hand. 

Each word 

by Ilyich 

finds soil most fertile 

and falling 

forthwith 

promotes 

our cause, 

and see — 

alongside 

with Leninist workers 
millions of peasants 

into its orbit it draws. 

And when 

it remained 

but to mount barricades, 

having chosen 

a day out of many, 
back to Petrograd 

to the workers’ aid 


221 



with 

“Comrades, 

we’ve waited enough!” 

came Lenin. 

“The yoke of capital, 

hunger’s prodding, 

the banditry of wars 

and thieving intervention 

will seem 

in time 

mere moles on the body 
of Grandma History, 

escaping attention.” 

And looking back 

from the future 

on this day 

the first thing seen 

will be Lenin’s figuie, 

from millennia 

of slavery 

blazing the way 
to the age of the Commune 

through want 

and rigour. 

These years of privation 

will sink into the past 

and the summer 

of the Commune 

warm this globe of ours, 

and the huge, 

sweet fruit of happiness 

at last 

will mature 

from the crimson 

October flowers. 

And then 

the readers 

of Lenin’s behests, 
as the yellowing pages 

they peruse, 

will feel a hot tide 

well up in their breasts. 


222 



and in their eyes — 

hot tears, 

long since out of use. 

When I look 

for the grandest day 

of my life, 

rummaging 

in all 

Tve gone through and seen, 

I name without doubt 

or internal strife 

October 25, 

1917. 

The Smolny^® throbs 

in a buzz of excitement. 

Grenades 

hang on seamen 

like partridges. 

Bayonets zigzag 

like flashes of lightning. 

Below stand machine-gunners 

belted with cartridges. 

No aimless shuffling 

in the corridors; 
with bombs and rifles 

no one’s a novice. 

“Comrade Stalin 

wants to see you. 

Here’s 

the orders: 

armoured cars — 

to the General Post Office.” 

“Comrade Trotsky’ s^^ 

instructions.” 

“Right!” 

— he dashed forward 

and the man’s 

navy ribbons 

flashed: 

“Aurora”.^® 

Some run with dispatches, 

others 

stand arguing, 


223 



still others 

click rifle-bolts — 

no two figures 

the same. 


And here, 

no token 


of greatness 

or grandeur, 


brisk 

but inconspicuous, 

Lenin 

came. 


Already 


led 

by Lenin 

into battle, 

they didn’t know him 

from portraits 


yet; 


bustled, 

hollered, 

exchanged banter, 
with a quickfire of oaths, 

hail-fellow-well-met. 


And there, 

in that long-wished-for 

iron storm 


Lenin, 

drowsy with fatigue, 

it would seem, 

pacing, 

stopping, 

hands clasped behind back, 

dug his eyes 

into the motley scene. 

Once I saw him 

stabbing them 

into a chap in puttees, 

dead-aiming, 

sharp- edged 

as razors, 

seizing the gist 

as pincers would seize, 


224 



dragging the soul 

from under words and phrases. 

And 1 knew, 

evci ything 

was disclosed 

and understood, 

everything 

those eyes 

were raking for: 

where 

the shipwright 

and miner stood, 

what 

the peasant and soldier were aching for. 

He kept all races 

within his sight, 

all continents 

where the sun goes setting 

oi dawning; 

weighed ihc whole globe 

in his l>) ain 

by night 

and in the nioining: 

“To all, 

evei y 

and each, 
slaves of the rich 
one another 

hacking and carving; 
to you we appeal 

this hour: 

Let the Soviets 

take over 

government power! 

Bread 

to the starving! 

Land 

to the farmers! 

Peace 

to the peoples 

and their warring armies!*' 

The bourgeois, busy 

drinking their fill of 

225 


15 -570 



soldierly blood, 

shrieked in a frenzy: 

“At ’em, 

Dukhonin and Kornilov, 
show ’em what’s what, 

Guchkov^ and Kerensky!” 
But both front and rear 

surrendered without a shot 

when the decrees^^ 

hailed down on them, 

scorching. 

Today we know 

who showed whom 

what’s what; 

even at illiterates’ hearts 

they got, 

into steel determination 

forging. 

From near 

unto far 

it went rolling, 

mounting 

from a whisper 

to a roai : 

“Peace to cottages 

poor and lowly, 

war on palaces, 

war, war, war!” 

We fought 

in all factories, 

humble and famous, 
shook ’em out of cities like peas, 

while outside 

the October wildfire 

left flaming manors 

for landmarks 

marking 

its triumphant stride. 

The land — 

once a mat 

for wholesale floggings — 

was suddenly seized 

by a calloused hand 


226 



with rivulets, 


hillocks 


and held tight — 


and other belongings 


the long-dreamed-of, 


The spectacled white-collars, 


blood-soaked land. 


sneaked off 


spitting in spite, 


to where kingdoms and dukedoms 


still remain. 


Good riddance! 


We’ll train every cook 


manage the country 


so she might 


to the workers’ gain. 


We survived 

for the lime 

by printing, 

wiiting, 

bellowing 

from the tienches 

into the (iei man eai : 

“Come out and fraternise! 

Finish fighting! 

Enough!” 

and the front 

crumbled off into the rear. 

Leaking in torrents 

that swelled out of trickles, 

it seemed 

our boat was about to careen: 

Wilhelm’s boot, 

far heftier than Nicholas’, 
would smash the country 

to smithereens. 

Then came the S.R.s 

with their infantile drivelling, 

to catch the runners 

in their word- traps preposterous; 


15 * 



dragged them back 

with toy swords 

from the scrap-heap of chivalry 

picturesquely to vanquish 

the iron-clad monsters. 

But Lenin 

curbed 

the gamecocks’ zest: 

“The Party 

must shoulder 

the burden again. 

We’ll accept 

the breathing-space 

of filthy Brest^^^: 

Territory we’ll lose, 

but time we’ll gain.” 

And, 

so as the breathing-space 

shouldn’t kill us, 

to be able, 

later, 

to knock them barmy, 

let discipline 

and t<jnscious lesolve 

be our drillers. 

Rally 

in the ranks 

of the Red Army! 


* 

Historians 

will stare 

at the posters with hydras^^^. 

“Did those hydras 

exist or not?” 

As for us, 

that same hydra 

reached out to bite us 
and a full-size hydra it was, 

by god. 

“All dangers we’ll defy, 

No limit to our courage, 

And fighting we will die 
For Soviet power to flourish!” 


228 



First comes Denikin. 

Denikin gets a lickin’. 

Repair work begins 

on our ruined hearths. 

Then Wr angel turns up 

in the wake of Denikin, 

the baron kicked out, 

Kolchak^^^'* comes en masse. 

Our dinners — bark, 

beds — any old where, 

yet forward 

the red-starred legion bursts. 

In each lives Lenin, 

each feels Lenin’s care, 

each along a front 

of eleven thousand versts. 

That was its breadth — 

eleven thousand versts, 

but who knows 

its depth and length? 

Every door 

an enemy ambush nursed, 

every house 

to be captured 

took blood and strength 

S.R.s and monarchists 

with their tongues and guns 

sting, 

the vipers, 

or bite like hounds. 

You don’t know the way 

to Michelson’s? 

You’ll find it 

by the blood 

from Lenin’s wounds.^^ 

S.R.s talk better 

than they pull a trigger, 

their bullets 

their own ribs ramming. 

But a menace 

beside which 

bullets were meagre 


229 



was the siege 

begun 

by typhus 

and famine. 

Look at the crumb-collecting 

llics: 

by far 

better off 

than wc were then, 

queueing 

in the freeze 

for a tiny slice 

days 

on end. 

Fancy 

a giant shipbuilding works 
working for nothing 

but cigarette-lighters! 

Jail ’em, 

hang ’em, 

cut their heads off, 

how else 

could the workers earn grub, 

poor blighters? 

But the kulaks 

had heaps of both butter and flour. 

Kulaks, 

they weren’t no boobies; 
hid and hoarded 

till a fitter hour 

their grain 

and their greasy rubles. 

Hunger 

hits harder, 

kills surer than bullets. 

You need a steel grip here, 

not cotton-wool lenience 

So Lenin sets out 

to fight the kulaks 
by food requisition teams — 

grim expedients. 

How could the very notion 

of democracy 


250 



at such a time enter 

any fool’s head?! 

At ’em 

and none of your mincing hypocrisy. 
Only iron dictatorship 

to victory led. 


We’ve won, 

but our ship’s all dents and holes, 
hull in splinters, 

engines near end, 
overhaul overdue 

for floors, 

ceilings, 

walls. 

Come, 

hammer and rivet, 

repair 

and mend! 

Where’s port? — 

all the beacons gone dead in the harbour. 

Wc careen, 

crossing 

the waves 

with oui masts. 

Theie’s risk she’ll keel over, 

such cargo to staiboatd: 

the 100 million 

peasant class! 

While enemies howled 

with malicious glee 

Lenin alone 

kept his nerve: 

turned her twenty points leeward 

and she 

swerved upright 

and entered port at a curve. 

And at once, 

surprisingly, 

no more gale; 

peasants cart bread 

and at every step 


231 



the familiar ads: 

WILL BUY— 

LOR SALE— 

_NEP107 
Lenin winks: 

we’re in for repairs. 

Cict used to the yardstick — 

nothing to fear. 

The shore 

rocks the crew, 

weak with wear and tear 

“Whoah! 

Where’s the gale? 

What’s the big idea?” 

Lenin 

points out 

a deep bay 

free of rocks 

with the piers 

of co-operatives 

looming 

over it. 

And smoothly 

into construction’s 

docks 

sailed 

the colossal 

country 

of Soviets. 

Lenin himself 

heaves timber and iron 

to patch up 

the breaks and ruptures, 
marks off and measures 

with an all-seeing eye on 

future co-ops, 

shops 

and management structures. 

Then again 

he resumes 

his post 

on the bridge: 


232 



Lights on 

in front, 

at the sides 

and back! 

Since now, 

systematic 

everyday 

siege 

will leplacc 

both storm raid 

and surprise attack. 

At first 

we withdrew, 

discreet and sober. 

Anyone disgraced — 

out without a word! 

Now forward again — 

the retreat is over. 

R.C.P.— 

crew aboaid! 

The Commune’ll live centuries. 

What’s a decade for her? 

Forward, 

and this quagmire of a NEP 

will be past. 

We’ll move 

and build 

a hundred times slower 
so a million times longer 

our edifice may last. 

The morass 

of petty “private enterprise” 

still tethers 

the tempo 

of our advance, 

but through the gathering clouds 

, of the world-wide tempest 

the first streaks of lightning 

already glance. 

Old enemies drop 

and give place to new. 


233 



Yet wait — 


the skies 


over the world 

we’ll ignite. 

But that 

is surely 

better 

to do 

than 

to write about. 

Right? 

Today, 

whether in the office 

of a director 

or running a lathe 

at a public-owned factory, 

we know — 

the proletariat is victor. 

and Lenin 

the architect of victory. 

From the Comintern 

to the hammer and sickle 
on brand-new kopeks 

shining in glory, 

our achievements 

and triumphs 

double 

and triple, 

filling page after page 

of Lenin’s great story. 

Revolutions 

are the business of peoples; 
for individuals 

they’re too heavy to wield, 

yet Lenin 

ranked foremost 

among his equals 

by his mind’s momentum, 

his will’s firm steel. 

Countries rise 

one after the other. 


234 



fulfilling 

his predictions 

each in turn; 

men of all races — 

white 

and dark-skinned — 

rally 

under the banner 

of the Comintern. 

The imperialists 

and bourgeois 

in their thinning crowds, 

still pestering the world 

and lording over it, 

politely tip 

their top hats and crowns 
to Ilyich’s brain-child — 

the Republic of Soviets. 

Fearing no effort 

or artifice by the rich, 
on speeds our engine 

in curling smoke. 

When suddenly — 

the shattering news: 

Ilyich 

had a stroke. . . . 


If 

you exhibited 

in a museum 


a Bolshevik in tears, 
all day 

they’d flock in the museum 

to see him. 


Small wonder — 

you won’t see the like in years. 

With five-pointed stars 

we were branded 

by Polish voivodes. 


Buried alive 

neck-deep in the ground 

by the bandits of Mamontov, 


235 



burned up in engine fire-boxes 

by Japanese marauders, 
mouths plugged with molten tin, 

threatened with bullets; 

“Renounce it!” they bellowed, 

but from 

the hell-holes of burning gullets 
“Long live Clommunism!” 

was all lhal would come 

Row 

after row, 

in its might unreckono<K 

this iron, 

this steel, 

the recess not over yet, 

crowded 

on January 

the twenty-second 
the five-storey building 

of the Congress of Soviets. 

Down they settled, 

joking 

and grinning, 


affairs talked over 

in business-like idiom. 


Time to start! 

Why aren’t they beginning? 

Here, 

what are those gaps in the presidium? 
Why are their eyes 

red as box-stall plush? 
Look at Kalinin — 

h^irdly keeps his feet. 
Something happened? 

What is it?. . . 


Hush! 


What if it’s him? 

No, indeed. . . . 

Raven-like, 

the ceiling 

swooped upon us, 

lowering; 


236 



down dropped heads, 


bent iloorward by their fears. 


Of a sudden 

ghastly, 

blackly glowering 
grew the swimming lights 

of chandeliers. 

Silence choked the bell’s unneeded tinkle. 

Up Kalinin got, 

by will alone. 

Tears — 

go try and chew them 

from moustache and wrinkle: 

they betray him, 

shining 

on the beard’s sharp cone. 

Veins ablaze — 

no hope of quenching them; 
thoughts confused — 

like walls his head i m penning : 

“Yesterday 

a( ().^)() |).ni. 

died 

(iOinrade l.eiiin." 

That year 

beheld a sight 

that ages won’t set eye on. 

That day will keep 

its tale of woe 

forever throbbing. 

Horror 

squeezed an anguished groan from iron. 

The rows of Bolsheviks 


were swept 


What a weight! 


with waves of sobbing. 


Ourselves 


Get the details! 


we dragged out bodily. 


When and where? 


Why do they hide it, 


damn! 


237 



Through the streets and lanes, 

a white hearse modelling, 

the Bolshoi Theatre swam. 

Joy 

crawls on like a snail. 

Grief 

will never go slow. 

No sun shone. 

No ice 

gleamed pale. 

AH the world 

from the newspapers’ pail 
was cold-showered 

with coal-black snow. 

On the worker 

bent at his gears 
the news pounced 

and bullet-like 

burned. 

And it seemed 

a cupful of tears 
on his instruments 

overturned. 

And the peasant, 

weathered and wizened by life, 

whom death 

more than once 

just missed, 

swung round — 

away from his wife, 
but she saw it — 

the dirt he smudged with his fist. 

There were some — 

no flint could be harder or colder, 

yet they too 

clenched their teeth, 

lips awry. 

Children 

in a minute grew graver and older 

and, 

childlike, 

the grey-bearded started to cry. 


238 



The wind 


to all the earth 


and she, the rebel, 


in sleepless anguish whined, 


that here, 


couldn’t stand up to the notion 


in Moscow, 


lay he — 


in a frosty room enshrined 


both son and father 


of the Revolution. 


The end, 

the end, 

the end. . . . 

AIJ persuasion 

useless! 

Glass 

and beneath — 

the deceased. 

It’s him 

they bear 

from l^aveletsky Stali<)n 

thiough the city 

that he 

from the loids 

1 el cased. 


The street’s like a wound 

that’ll worsen and worsen, 


so the ache of it 

cuts 

and hacks. 


Here every cobble 

knew Lenin 

in person 


by the tramp 

of the first October attacks. 
Here every slogan 

on banners embroidered 


was thought out 

and worded 

by him. 


239 



Here every tower 


his speeches 


would follow him 


applauded, 


anywhere, 


Here Lenin 


staunch and grim. 


is known 


both in works and offices. 


Spread hearts 


like spruce-tree boughs 


He led, 


in his way! 


he steeled 


and see — 


with his victory-prophecies. 


proletarians 


Here every peasant 


have taken sway, 
holds Lenin's name 


dearer 


than any 


of kinsmen cherished 


for the land 


his own — 


that at Lenin's bidding because 


a dream 


for which grandsircs 


rebelled 


And Communards 


and perished. 


from their graves 


seemed to be whispering 


in Red Square 


‘Dear, 


beloved, 

live, 

and no need for a lot more fair. 

We’d die ten times 

for fulfilment of it.” 

Let the word 

be pronounced 

by a miracle-maker 


240 



for us to die 

that he be awoken; 

the street-streams would swell 

and flood their embankments 


and all 

go to death 

with a joy unspoken. 

But there aren’t any miracles. 

Only Lenin. 

Lenin, 

his coffin 

and our bent shoulders. 

This man was a human — 

as human as anyone. 

So just bear it — 

the pain 

that in humans smoulders. 


Never 

was there 

a burden more pre( ious 


borne along 

by oceans of people 
than this red coffin 


borne by processions 
on the drooping shoulders 

of marches and wee|)ing. 

The (iuard of Honour 

had scarcely been formed 


of heroes, 

heirs 

of his wisdom and strength. 


when crowds, 

impatient, 

already swarmed 
through all the neighbourhood’s 

breadth 


and length. 

Into a 1917 breadline 
no hunger 

could drive — 

better eat tomorrow. 


16-570 


241 



But into this bitter, 


freezing, 


dread line 


invalids — 


were driven by sorrow. 

Alongside 

village and town 

were arrayed, 

child and adult, 

wrung 

by their grief's insistence. 

The world of labour 

passed 

in parade, 

the living total 

of Lenin's existence. 

Downcast, 

the sunbeams 

dropped through fhe trees, 

slanting down 

from the house-top slopes, 

yellow 

as whipped-into-meekness Chinese 
bent with their sorrow, 

lamenting their hopes. 

Nights 

swam in 

on the shoulders 

of days 

muddling hours 

and confusing dates 

and it seemed, 

not night 

with its star-born rays, 

but Negroes 

were here 

with their tears 

from the States. 

The frost, 

unheard-of, 

scorched one’s feet. 


242 



yet days 

were spent 

in the tightening crush. 

Nobody 

even ventures 

to beat 

hands together to warm them — 

hush! 

The frost grips fast and tortures, 

as if 

trying how tough 

the love-tempered will is, 

cuts into mobs, 

and, freezing them stiff, 

sneaks in 

with the crowds 

behind the pillars. 

The steps expand, 

grow up into a reef. 

Silence. 

Brcalhing and sighing stop: 
how pass it, 

fearful beyond belief, 

that dismal, 

abysmal 

four-step drop:' 

I'hat drop 

from the logic of farthing and penny, 

from ages 

of thraldom to His Majesty Gold; 

that drop 

with its brink — 

the coffin 

and Lenin 

and beyond — 

the Commune 

in its glory unrolled. 

Lenin’s forehead 

was all you saw 
and Nadezhda Konstantinovna^^^ 

in a haze . . . . 

Maybe eyes less full of tears 

could show me more. 


1C* 


243 



It’s through clearer eyes 

I’ve looked on gladder days. 

The floating banners 

bend 

in the last 

honours, 

and, silken, sway. 

“Farewell to you, 

comrade, 

who have passed 

from a noble life 

away. . . .” 

Horror! 

Shut your eyes 

and blindfold pace 

the infinity 

of tight-rope grief. 

As if 

for a minute 

left face to face 

with the only 

truth 

woith belief. 

What joy! 

My body, 

light as a feather, 

drifts 

in the march- tune’s resonant stream. 

I know 

for sure — 

from now and forever 
the light of this minute 

in me will gleam. 

What a joy it is 

to be part of this union, 
even tears from the eyes 

to be shared en masse, 

in this — 

the purest, 

most potent communion 
with that glorious feeling 

whose name is Class. 


244 



The banner-wings 

droop 

one after another, 

in tomorrow’s battles 

again to rise; 

“We ourselves, 

dear brothei , 

closed 

your eagle eyes. ...” 

Shoulder to shoulder — 

not to fall! 

Flags blackened, 

eyes reddening, 

tears agleani, 

for the last farewell with Lenin 

came all, 

slowing 

down 

at the Mausoleum. 

On went the funeral ceremonial. 

Speeches flowed. 

Ay, speaking’s all right; 

the tragedy is 

theic’s a minute only — 
how embreicc him 

at one insatiable sight! 

Out they file 

and with dread in their glance 

look up 

at the glowering, 

snow-pocked disk: 

how madly 

the clockhands on Spasskaya^^* dance! 
A minute — 

and past the last quarter 

they whisk! 

Stop 

at this news, 

mankind, 

and grow dumb 

Life, 

movement, 

breathing — cease. 


245 



You, 

with hammer uplifted, 

be numb. 

Earth, 

lie low 

and, motionless, freeze. 

Silence. 

The end of the greatest of fighters. 
Cannon fired. 

A thousand, perhaps. 

Yet all that cannonade 

sounded quieter 

than pennies 

jingling in beggars’ caps. 

Straining, 

paining 

each puny iris 

I stand, 

half-frozen, 

with 

bated breath. 

In the gleaming of banners 

before me arises 

darkling, 

the globe, 

as still as death. 

And on it — 

this coffin 

mourned by mankind, 

with us, 

mankind’s representatives, 

round it, 

in a tempest of deeds 

and uprisings destined 

to build up 

and complete 

all this day has founded. 


But now, 

from the bowing banners’ 

red arch 


246 



comes the voice of Muralov^^^. 

“Forward 

march!’' 

The command’s so apt 

it needn’t be given: 

our breathing firmer, 

more even 

and rare, 

leaden bodies with effort 

driven, 

we hammer 

our footsteps 

down from the square. 

Each of the banners 

above our heads 

in steadying hands 

soars up 

as it ought. 

From our marching ranks 

the energy 

spreads 

in circles, 

carrying through the world 

one thought; 

one thought 

from a common anxiety 

stemming 

burns 

in the army, 

at the lathe, 

at the plough: 

it’ll be hard for the Republic 

without Lenin. 

He’s got to be replaced, 

but by whom 

and how? 


“Enough of dozing 

on bug-ridden mattresses! 

Comrade secretary, 

here’s 


put down 


our application: 
the whole of the factory 


247 



on the membership list 

of the Party organisation.” 

Cold sweat 

comes oozing 

from bourgeois flesh 

as they watch on, 

grinding 

their teeth. 

400,000 

from the workbench 

fresh — 

could the Party 

bring Lenin 

a welcomer 

wreath? 

“Comrade secretary, 

where’s your pen? 

Replace means replace — 

why squander words? 

If you think I’m too old, 

here’s my grandson then 

Y.C.L.-cr, 

one of tlic early birds!” 


Ahoy, 

my Navy, 

get into motion! 

Off on your missions, 

submarine moles! 

“Over sea 

and over ocean 
travel sailors, 

merry souls!” 

Hi there. Sun, 

come and be witness! 

Hurry on, 

smooth out the wrinkles of mourning. 
In line with parents, 

children show their fitness — 


248 



Tra-ta-ta-ta-aa-aa! 

sing their bugles in the morning. 
“One-Two-Threc, 

Pioneers are we: 

We aren’t afraid of fascists — 
Let them come and see!” 

In vain 

old Europe 

snarls like a cur. 

“Back!” 

we warn her, 

“better be wiser!” 

Lenin’s 

very death 

has turned 

into the greatest 

communist-organiser! 

Over the world-wide forest 

of factory 

stacks 

like a giant banner 

the huge 

Red Square, 

millions 

of hands 

welded into its staff, 


soars 

with a mighty sweep 

into the air. 

And from that banner, 

from every fold 

Lenin, 

alive as ever, 

cries: 

‘ Workers, 

prepare 

for the last assault! 

Slaves, 

unbend 

your knees and spines! 
Proletarian army, 

rise in force! 


249 



Long live 

the Revolution 


the greatest 


with speedy victory, 


and justest 

of all the wars 


ever 

fought 

in history!” 


1924 



FINE! 

1 


Time 

is a thing 

that goes endlessly on 
The times of the Scigas — 

they’ve been 


No sagas, 


and gone. 


no epics, 


no myths- 

Fly, verse, like a telegram, 


all extinct. 


With lips inflamed 


drop down 


and drink 


from the river 


whose name is 


This is time 


humming taut 


my heart 


as a telegraph wire. 


alone 


with the truth, 

whole and sole. 

This happened — 

with fighters, 

with the country entire, 

in the depth 

of my own soul. 

After reading this book 

I want you once more 

from your tiny 

apartment 

worlds 

to forge ahead 

through machine-gun roar 
in the bayonet-gleam 

of my poem’s words. 


251 



Shine up ihf4!i. 

sJiine t»n eailii 

till 1 i ( e\ own son i i t' Mins d i \ 

shint' on - 

for ill I youi hloo'iiin*; ^voM'i 
so sa v 
bolli sun 
iind 1 ! 


i // . I Ad^Huftnt 




I want this book 

read by joyous eyes 
as the testimony of a lucky witness, 
to infuse 

tired muscles, 

tonic-wise, 

with builders’ 

riotous strength 

and fitness. 

We won’t hire anyone 

to sing our day. 

We’ll crucify pencils 

on the blank page, 

so that pages 

rustling 

like banners asway 

should rustle 

until 

the furthermost age. 

19 


I’ve 

been hiking 
all over the world, 
life’s 

to my liking, 
there’s 

no word, 
but in our hustle 

with its pep and bustle 

it’s better still. 

Sec 

that snaky highroad 

twine 

past 

the houses tall? 

Well, 

that highroad’s 

mine, 

houses 

and all. 


254 



Windows aglare, 

stand the shops. 

All 

kinds of ware, 
full 

to the tops. 

Flies 

kept out. 

Cheese — 

not a spot. 

Lamps 

strung about; 

“Prices 

cut!” 

Getting 

operative, 

my 

Co-operative! 

Our 

rubles 

win 

the 

trade -fight 

in! 

llookslalls 

bulge , , , . 

With books in a pile; 

my name, 

too, 

in the list of poetry. 

Isn’t that jolly — 

proud, I smile — 

there’s 

my bit 

in the work 

of my country! 

Swirling 

the dust 

with fat-lipped tyre, 

men 

1 elect 

to sittings retire. 

255 



Sit 

and discuss 
my affairs 

without fuss, 

in my 

Moscow Soviet, 

and 

don’t drowse over it! 
Countenance 

ruddy, 

gun-holster 

tan, 

to g-uard me 

ready 

is my 

militia-man. 

His baton’s 

direction 


is 

“Please turn right!” 

I’ve 

no objection! 
bine! 

All right! 

Blue silk heavens 
above me 

shine. 

Sure, 

it’s never 
been half 

so fine. 

An aeroplane 

hops 

over humped 

cloud- tops. 

That man 

in the aeroplane’s 

mine! 

I watch him, 

glued to the spot. 

If 

it comes to war, 

he’ll deal it out fine. 


256 



and be sure, 


they’ll get it hot! 

1 skim 

through the paper: 
good boys, Viennese, 
to wallop 

their bosses’ 

fat bums 

with their knees! 
“BURNT 

THE COURT”— 

they got 

what they ought! — 

Out 

flames 

break, 

papcis 

alight, 

judges 

quake- 

serves 

’em 

right! 

Scurvy 

editorials 

till eaten us with wars . . . 
That 

won’t worry us, 
though they 

go hoarse! 

There comes 

the Army 

marching 

before me: 

drum- 

mers 

rat- 

tle, 

ready for 

bat- 

tle, 


17-570 


257 



feet 

beat 

loud, 

faces 

look 

proud, 

bayonets 

bristle, 

red stars 

glisten, 

1 set 

niy pace 
to the marching 

feet; 

foes 

you 

face 

are 

mine 

in- 

deed. 

Touch us, 

will they.^ 

We’ll knock them 

silly! 

Black smoke 

overhangs 

chimney-batteries; 

Puff- 

blow, 

blow- 

puff, 

go 

my 

factories. 

Pulf away, 

my engines, 

puff, 

never 

to cease. 

Make me 

heaps of cotton stuff. 


238 



my Komsomol girls 

to please! 

You feci that breeze 
from behind the trees? 

It’s 

their perfume’s smell! 

My dear, 

how 

swell ! 

Fields 

far-reaching; 

peasants 

in their fields, 

cunning 

creatures 
with beards 

like shields — 

bushy 

as heather! 

When 

they turn the loam, 
it’s so damn clever, 
you’d think 

they wrote a poem. 

Take 

any village; 
at sowing 

or tillage, 
they work away 

the whole 

blessed day; 

feeding 

poultry, 

milking, 

sowing, 

—it’s all 

ray country, 

building 

and growing. 

Some lands 

are centenarian, 


17 * 


259 



for History’s 


and mine’s 


graveyard 

ripe, 


just a lad, 


just plan 


and a merry one: 


and invent 


No end of joy! 


and try! 


Life 


We could spare some 

• for you to feel. 


is marvellous, 


life 


is beautiful! 


May we live 

to a hundred years 

till our first 

gray hair appears, 
may the future 

bring 

joy in everything. 

Verse and hammer 

glory sing 

to the land 

of spring! 


1927 



ALOUD AND STRAIGHL 

First Piologue to a Poem of the Five-Year Plan 


Comrades, 

honourable descendants! 

Raking 

the petrified muck of today, 
probing the darkness that once impenned us, 
you may chance 

to ask about me, 

I daresay. 

And I daresay, 

one of your scientists will utter, 

erudition 

hushing 

curiosity to awe, 

that, well, 

there was 

such a batd of boiled watei 

and rabid enemy 

of water raw.^^^* 

Now, 

off with your optics’ bicycle, 

Professor! 

ril deal with the topic myself, 

yessir. 

I, 

muck-cleaner and water-carter, 
mobilised 

and enlisted 

by the October call-up, 

went to the front 

from the manor garden 

of Poetry 

(wanton old trollop!) 

Cottage, 

pottage, 

lawn and orchard, 
daughter, water — 

what a beaut’! 

Fancy-Nancy plants an orchid. 


261 



an’ she’ll water it to boot! 

Some grow poems by the acre, 
others sow ’em by the pinch. 

Curly-whirly like Mitreikin, 
fuddle-muddle like Kudreiko.^^® 

Go and tell ’em, 

which is which! 

What’s to stop 

the beastly dinning? 

There they’ll twang 

till god knows when: 

Tar -ra tin-nay 

tar-ray tin-na, 

Tcnn-n-n!^^'^ 

Not much of an honour 

for me to rear 
my 

carvings 

amid such roses, 

on town squares with whore and hooligan near, 
’mid gobs 

of tuberculosis! 

Me too 

agitf^rofy^ 

makes sick as hell, 

me too 

writing love songs would suit as well — 
even better — for palate and purse. 

Yet I— 

I’d trample, 

myself to quell, 

on the very throat 

of my verse. 

Listen, 

Comrades descendants, 
to the agitator, 

brazen-mouthed ring-leader! 

Covering 

all poetry’s resplendence. 


Agitprop — body responsible for agitation and propa 
ganda. — Tr. 


262 



I shall crash 


across the trash 

of lyric-vendors, 

as alive 

as any living reader! 
ril come to you 

into your far-off communism 
not like the sing-song 

of Esenin’s fond creations. 

My verse will reach you 

over century and schism 

above the heads of poets 

and administrations. 

My verse will reach you anyway, 

but not the way 

the dart gains goal 

in Cupid’s lyric chase, 

not like the coin 

that numismatists will display, 
nor like a long -dead star’s 

belated rays. 

My verse 

will toil its way 

through aeon-mountain-chains 

and, 

virile, 

visible, 

unvarnished, 

be at home 

with you 

as arc with us 

the water-mains 

worked into being 

by the slaves of ancient Rome. 

From burial mounds of books 

that smother rhyme 

these bits 

of iron poems 

disinterring, 


263 



you’ll reverently handle them in time 
as weapons old, 

but deadly and unerring. 

I’m unaccustomed 

to caress the ear with words. 
The maiden auricle 

that nestles in its curls 


will blush, 

not touched, 

but shocked with half-obscenity. 

See — 

in parade my pages’ troops unfurl 
and 1 march past 

the stanzas’ front 

in proud serenity. 


There stand the smaller pieces, 

leaden-grim. 


for death 

as well as deathless glory ready. 
Muzzle to muzzle, 

loaded to the brim, 


big poems 

rear 

their deadly aiming headings. 


Best-loved 

of all diversely-weaponed troops, 
keen-pointed rhymes whipped out 

and gripped at knee, 


on the alert 

to plunge ahead with whoops, 
stand puns and quips — 

my fleet-foot cavalry. 

And all this army, 

armed up to the teeth, 
with twenty years of triumph 

to its merit, 

in all its flying might, 

to the last leaf, 

I give away to you, 

the planet’s proletariat. 

The enemy 

of the colossus working class, 


264 



he’s mine as well, 

detested, 

hated, 

mortal. 

We all were bade 

beneath red flags to mass 

by years of toil, 

by days of bread and water. 

We opened Marx’ every volume 

in the way 

we open shutters in our homes 

to let in light. 

But even without reading 

we could say 

with whom to march 

and on which side to fight. 

Our dialectics 

weren’t derived 

from Hegel’s cunning. 

Through battle din 

it burst into our verse 
when bullets from our guns 

sent bosses running 

the same as we 

had run from theirs at first. 

Let widow Fame 

drip tears 

on genius’ pile 

to stir up awe 

forever and anon in us. 


die, my verse, 

like any rank and file, 

like those of us 

who fought and fell anonymous. 
The hell I care 

for bronze’s weight memorial, 

the hell I care 

for marble’s frozen slime! 

We’re comrades all — 

so let us share our glory. 


1«— 670 



one common monument 


let’s have 

to tell our story 

in socialism, 

built in battle for all time. 

Descendants, 

check your dictionary floats! 

You’ll fish out from the Lethe 

such queer words, 

as prostitution, 

TB 

and blockade. 

For you 

of iron health 

and steely muscle knots 

a poet licked away 

consumptive’s clots 
with the rough tongue 

of posters that he made. 

With the tail of years 

I’m getting like a fossil — 

a long-tailed monster 

seen through History’s haze. 

Come, 

Comrade Life, 

let’s tramp as fast as possible 
along the five-year plan 

what’s left us of our days. 
There’s not a ruble in my cashbox 

saved by verse; 

I’ve no mahogany 

by order carpentered, 
and, frankly, friends, 

a couple of clean shirts 

is all I care to have 

in this our world. 

Called 

to the CCC**^ 

of Future crimson-starred, 


**■ CCC — Central Control Committee of the Communist 
Party. — */r. 


266 



above the rabble 

of poetic thugs 

and crooks 


ril hold up 

like a Party member-card 
all hundred volumes 

of my party-hearted 

books! 


1930 


IS" 




notes 




YOU! 

* . . .awards of St. Gcoigi — St. George's Cross — a medal awarded for 
military merit in pre-revolutionary Russia. p. 29 

2 Severyanin, Igor — Mayakovsky’s contemporary, a decadent poet, 
leader of the poetic grouping known as egofuturists. p. 29 


LILY DEAR! IN LIEU OF A LETTER 

3 Dedicated to Lily Brik. p. 32 

^ A chapter of Kuichoniklis inferno — allusion to Games in Hell, a 
futurist poem by A. Kruchonikh and V. Khlebnikov (1919). p. 32 

KINDNESS TO HORSES 

^ Sweeping the Kuznetsky — Kuznetsky Most — fashionable Moscow street. 

p. 36 


AN AMAZING ADVENTURE 

^ ROST A — abbr. for Russian Telegraph Agency, foicrunncr of TASS. 
Since Autumn 1919, under its auspices, a group of poets and artists 
headed by Mayakovsky, produced thousands of colourful posters with 
ihymed captions on current political themes. p. 42 

ORDER No. 2 TO THE ARMY OF ARTS 

2 Proletcult (Proletarian Culture) — a cultural and educational society 
inaugurated in September 1917 lor the development of amateur art 
among workers. Renouncing the classic heritage, proletcultist theore- 
ticians spread the erroneous view that a “purely proletarian” culture 
could be created by so-called “laboratory methods”. The Proletcultist 
doctrine was sharply criticised by V. I. Lenin. p. 44 

ATLANIIC OCEAN 

^ Revkom, military-revolutionary committee, directed the preparations 
for the October uprising and the uprising itself. p. 48 

^ C.E.C. (TslK) — Central Executive Committee — supreme organ of 
Soviet power before the adoption of the new Constitution in 1936. 

p. 49 


A SKYSCRAPER DISSECTED 

Pre-October Yelets or Konotop small provincial towns, synonymous 
of stagnation. p. 57 

Calvin Coolidge — President of the USA in 1923-1929. p. 58 


271 



SERGEI ESENIN 

. . .slashed up wrist-veins — Sergei Esenin, prominent Russian poet, 
committed suicide in the Leningrad hotel Angleterrc on Dec. 27, 
1925, writing his last verse with blood from his opened vein. p. 64 

Kvass — popular non-alcoholic beverage. p. 65 

On the Post — magazine, mouthpiece of one of the leading literary 
groupings of the twenties, the Russian Association of proletarian 
writers (RAPP). p. 65 

Nikolai Doronin — poet, contemporary of V. Mayakovsky. p. 65 

Leonid Sobinov — famous tenor who sang at the Esenin memorial 
meeting in the Moscow Art Theatre. p. 67 

Not a word, my friend, not a sigh — initial words of a romance by 
Chaikovsky to words by Pleshcheyev. p. 67 

L, V, Loengrinsky — Loengrin’s part in Wagner’s opera was consid- 
ered one of Sobinov’s finest performances. p. 67 

P. S. Kogan — Soviet critic, target of many sarcastic quips on the 
part of V. Mayakovsky. p. 67 

20 Dying in this life is not so hard, building life is harder, I daresay — 
paraphrase of Esenin’s lines: Dying in this life is not so new, yet 
living, certainly, is not much newer. p. 6S 

TO COMRADE NETTE, STEAMER AND MAN 

2^ Theodore Nette — Soviet diplomatic courier who was murdered by 
foreign secret agents in a train carriage in February 1926. p. 69 

22 Roman Yakobson — philologist, Mayakovsky’s and Nette’s friend. 

p. 69 


LETTER TO COMRADE KOSTROV 

22 T. Kostrov — then editor of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. 

p. 83 


CLOUD IN PANTS 

2^ Lusitania — British steamship sunk by a German submarine in 1915. 

p. 96 

22 . . .calvaries of rostrums, Mayakovsky and other futurists undertook 
a tour through Russia in late 1913-carly 1914. p. 99 

28 "Drink Van Huten's Cocoa.'"— the day’s newspapers carried stories 
about a convict sentenced to death who ajg^reed to shout out these 
words during his execution, the firm having promised to provide 
for his family. p. 101 


272 



27 General Galliffet — sponsor of massacres concluding the existence of 

the Paris Commune of 1871. p. 103 

28 ...feasts like Mamai. . . — allusion to a Tatar custom by which vic- 
tors feasted sitting on planks laid on the corpses of the defeated. 
Actually, it was not Khan Mamai of the Golden Horde, but the 
commanders of Genghiz Khan who did so after the battle on the 


river Kalka (13th century). p. 104 

28 Azef — an agent-provocateur in the pay of the tsarist secret police. 

p. 104 

^ One poet sings sonnets to Tiana. . . — allusion to I. Severyanin’s poem 
7iana. p. 107 

I LOVE 

Muller — author of popular physical exercise manual. p. Ill 

82 Rion — Rioni — river in Georgia which flows through the town of 
Kutaisi. p. Ill 


88 Butyrki — former Butyrskaya prison in Moscow where Mayakovsky 
was detained in cell No. 103 in 1909-1910 for revolutionary activity. 

p. 112 

8^ Ilovaisky D, 1. — author of history-books written in a reactionary, 
monarchist spirit. p. 113 

88 Nikolai Dobrolyubov — great revolutionary democrat, critic and writ- 
er. The name means literally ‘Tover of good”. p. 113 

88 Sadovaya — one of Moscow’s chief thoroughfares forming a ring 
round the city centre (lit, Sadovaya — Garden St.). p. 114 

87 Strastnaya Square — a s<mare in the centre of Moscow, renamed 

Pushkin Square (Strast — Passion). p. 115 

88 . . .precursor by Maupassant — allusion to Maupassant’s story 7 he Idyll. 

p. 115 


IT 

88 Lubyansky Proyezd (drive) — now Serov Proyezd — street in Moscow 
where Mayakovsky lived at the time. p. 122 

^ Vodopyany Lane — place where Lily Brik lived at the time. p. 122 

Myasnitskaya Street — now Kirov Street — the route from Lubyansky 
Proyezd to Vodopyany Lane. p. 126 

^2 Dantes killed the poet Alexander Pushkin in a duel. p. 130 

^ VTslK — Russian abbreviation for Central Executive Committee. 

p. 130 


273 



^ Ehrfurt programme — programme of the German Social 'Democratic 
Party adopted at a party congress in 1891. p. 130 

The man from seven years hack—iht hero of Afan, a poem Mayakov- 
sky wrote 7 years before It in 1916-1917. p. 135 

7verskaya—noy/ Gorky Street. p. 139 

Presnya — Moscow street where Mayakovsky’s mother and sisters 
lived. p. 141 

. . .six hundred versts — distance from Moscow to Leningrad, p. 142 

domkam — house management committee elected from the tenants of 
an apartment house. p. 143 

^ Kudrinskaya — a square in Moscow, now renamed Vosstaniye Square 
in honour of the 1905 uprising. p. 144 

Pleasant Surprise — title of a collection of verses by A. Blok. p. 145 

. . .guardian angel — in those days tenants of large Oats, afraid of 
having some of the rooms requisitioned, did their best to get hold of 
an important lodger. p. 146 

^ Mystery-Bouffe’—di play by Mayakovsky. p. 148 

^ Arnold Boecklin — Swiss painter, symbolist, copies of whose picture 
“Island of the Dead” could be found in any middle-class family 
before the Revolution. p. 151 

^ Raskolnikov — hero of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, p. 153 

57, Lyuhan, Tver (now Kalinin), stations on the way from 

Leningrad to Moscow. p. 157 

Razumovskoye—Mo^QQv/ suburb. p. 157 

Nikolaevsky Station— noy^ Leningrad Railway terminal in Moscow. 

p. 157 

One of your sort— a hussar— rtftn to the poet Lermontov who served 
as a hussar and was killed in a duel, in Pyatigorsk at the foot of 
Mt. Mashuk. p. 165 


VLADIMIR ILYICH LENIN 

^ Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky— iYsen People’s Commissar of Inter- 
nal Affairs, staunch follower of Lenin. p. 180 

^ The House of Unions — historical public building in the centre of 
Moscow where Lenin lay in state in January 1924. p. 182 


274 



Bromley s and Goujons — foreign-owned engineering works in old 
Russia; after the revolution they were nationalised, renamed and 
considerably expanded. p. 183 

^ Yeliseyev — big food-dealer with huge shops in Russia’s principal 
cities. p. 185 

Ivanovo-Voznesensk — big textile centre, scene of mass strikes and 
revolutionary upheavals for many years. p. 186 

Stepan Razin — leader of a peasant uprising in the 17lh century. 

p 187 

^ The French Prime Minister Thiers and General Galliffct headed the 

operations against the Paris Commune of 1871. p. 196 

Perc Lachaise — Paris cemetery where Communards were shot and 
buried. p. 196 

Alexander Ulyanov, Lenin’s elder brother, a member of the Narod- 
naya Volya revolutionary society, was arrested on the eve of an at- 
tempt to assassinate the tsar, and executed, alter couit inattial, at 
the Schlusselburg Fortress, place of execution of many Russian rev- 
olutionaries. p. 200 

Name of earliest Marxist workers’ organisation in Russia, embryo 
of the Communist Party. p. 203 

Vladimirka — highway by which political convicts were driven from 
Moscow to Siberia. p. 203 

S.R ^ — Social ist-Revolutionaiy Party, a petty-bourgeois organisation 
preaching individual terror; after the October Revolution it degen- 
erated into a gang of plotters opposing Soviet power. p. 204 

Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) — name used from 1918 to 

1925. p. 205 

On January 9, 1905, the gendarmes, killing hundreds, scattered a 
peaceful manifestation carrying a petition to the tsar. The priest 
Gapon, its leader, had organised a whole system of police-sponsored 
workers’ circles, spreading the belief that the tsar was unaware of 
their miserable conditions. p. 210 

Mukden, Tsushima — sites of land and naval battles in the Russo- 
Japanese War (1904-05), where tsarism sustained military defeat 
from the Japanese; one of the main events that set off the revolution 
of 1905, disclosing the decay of the regime. p. 210 

^ Presnya — industrial district in Moscow where the street- fighting be- 
gan in 1905. p. 210 


275 



On October 17, 1905, the tsar issued a manifesto promising certain 
civil rights — a subterfuge aimed at allaying popular indignation. 

p. 211 

™ Admiral Dubasov — governor-general of St. Petersburg, headed opera- 
tions against the insurgent workers. p. 211 

Cheka — Extraordinary Commission headed by Dzerzhinsky, crushed 
counter-revolutionary plots in the first years of Soviet power, p. 211 

Some of the intellectuals earlier supporting the revolutionary cause 
lost heart after the defeat of the revolution and abandoned the 
militant principles of the movement, indulging in “God-seeking”, 
i.e , religious mysticism. p. 211 

Georgi Plekhanov — prominent Marxist scholar and theoretician, who 
in 1905 drifted to the right and broke with Lenin. p. 212 

® Poltava (Ukraine, 1709) and Plevna (Bulgaria, 1877) — cities near 
which big historic battles were won by Russian forces. p. 213 

The international socialist conference held in Zimmerwald (Switz- 
erland, 1915) took a resolute stand against the imperialist war. 

p. 214 

^ Hohenzollern — dynastic name of German Kaiser Wilhelm II. p. 217 
^ Nevsky Prospekt — central thoroughfare of Petrograd. p. 217 

Dardanelsky, nee Mityukov — one of the leaders of the Russian 
counter-revolutionary forces, during World War I advocated war 
until victory and annexation of the Dardanelles straits. p. 217 

Prince Mikhail — brother of Nicholas II, made claims to the throne 
immediately after the tsar’s abdication. p. 217 

^ Kerensky, A, F. — Socialist-Revolutionary; from July 1917 headed the 
bourgeois Provisional Government. In August 1917 Premier Kerensky 
ordered Lenin’s arrest, secretly planning his murder. p. 217 

Boris Savinkov — one of the leaders of the S.R. Party; after the 
revolution headed several counter-revolutionary plots. p. 218 

Mensheviks — opportunist minority in the Russian Social-Democratic 
Labour Party. The Tell-Tale Cat — folklore cat that could speak and 
tell stories. p. 218 

Liteiny Prospekt^onc of Petrograd’s main streets. p. 218 

^ Kshesinskaya — prima ballerina of the Mariinsky Theatre, the tsar’s 
favourite, whose palace, a present from the tsar, was taken over by 
the revolutionary masses. P* 220 


276 



^ On July 3-4, 1917, Petrograd workers, soldiers and sailors held a 
peaceful demonstration demanding complete transfer of power to the 
Soviets. It was dispersed by gunnre at the orders of the Provisional 
Government. p. 220 

Zinoviev, G. Y, — joined the Russian Social-Democratic movement in 
1901. After the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. (1903) Zinoviev 
joined the Bolsheviks. After the Revolution, one of the organisers 
of the anti-Party Trotsky-Zinoviev bloc. p. 221 

^ Smolny — historic building accommodating the Petrograd Soviet: 
headquarters of the October uprising. p. 223 

Trotsky, L. D. — headed the Centrist trend in Russian Social-Democ- 
racy. On the eve of the October Revolution joined the Bolshevik 
Party. After the October Revolution headed the opposition elements 
fighting against the general Party line, against the Leninist pro- 
gramme of socialist construction. In 1927 Trotsky was expelled from 
the Party and deprived of Soviet citizenship for anti-Soviet activities. 

p. 223 

^ Aurora — famous battleship whose salvo signalled the beginning of 
the revolution. p. 223 

^ Dukhonin and Kornilov — white generals, Guchkov — Minister in the 
bourgeois Provisional Government; leaders of the planned coup aimed 
at preventing the imminent revolution. p 22G 

Decrees on Peace and Land and Decision on the Formation of a 
Workers’ and Peasants’ Government — the first to be issued by the 
revolutionary authorities. p. 226 

The young Soviet Government was forced to sign the inequitable 
Brest Treaty with the Germans, which lasted only until November 
1918, when the revolution in Germany overthrew the Kaiser, p. 228 

. . .posters with hydras — cartoons of the civil war depicted imperial- 
ism as a many-headed monster out to devour the Soviet Republic. 

p. 228 

104, 105 General Denikin headed the first whiteguard onslaught from 
the South; soon after his defeat, Baron Wrangel entered the Ukrai- 
nian steppes from the Crimea. Admiral Kolchak led the white armies 
based in Siberia. With equipment and financial backing from abroad, 
they successively and simultaneously attempted to smother the Soviet 
Republic, the results of which are known. p. 229 

Allusion to an attempt on Lenin’s life by the S.R. terrorist Kaplan 
who chose the moment when Lenin was leaving a workers’ rally at 
the Michelson engineering works in Moscow, August 1918. p. 229 

JV£P — abbreviation for the New Economic Policy proclaimed by 
Lenin, envisaging temporary permission of free private commerce, 
purposed to help the economy recuperate; the key positions in the 
economy being retained by the proletarian state. p. 232 


277 



108 May/io/i/ou— whiteguard general, notorious for brutality. 


p. 235 


Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin— one of the oldest followers of Lenin; 
Chairman of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee and later 
of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. p. 236 

Nadezhda Komlaniinovna Krupskaya — Lenin’s wife, staunch Bol- 
shevik. p. 243 

Spasskaya— Kr^lin clock-tower. p. 245 

Muralov, N. /.—then commander of the Moscow Military District. 

p. 247 

FINE! 

Good hoys, Viennese— zxi allusion to the Vienna uprising of July 
1927. p. 257 

ALOUD AND STRAIGHT 

That there was such a bard of boiled water and rabid enemy of 
water raw— ivonic hint at the sanitary posters which Mayakovsky 
supplied with captions, * p. 261 

Cottage, pottage, lawn and orchard— re-hash of a popular sen- 
timental ditty. p. 261 


Mitu'ikin and Kudreiko-potii, Mayakovsky’s contemporaries, p. 262 

7ar~ta tin-na, tar-ra tin-na, ten-n-n — from Gypsy Waltz on a Guitar 
by Ilya Selvinsky. p. 262